MADRID – A Spanish lawmaker was horrified to find out the FBI used his photograph as part of a digitally enhanced image showing what Usama bin Laden might look like today, he said Saturday, calling into question the crime-fighting agency's credibility in battling terrorism.
Gaspar Llamazares of the United Left party said he would no longer feel safe traveling to the United States after his hair and facial wrinkles were taken from the Internet and appeared on a wanted poster updating the U.S. government's 1998 photo of the Al Qaeda leader.
"I was surprised and angered because it's the most shameless use of a real person to make up the image of a terrorist," Llamazares said at a news conference Saturday. "It's almost like out of a comedy if it didn't deal with matters as serious as bin Laden and citizens' security."
The FBI said in a statement Saturday that it was aware of the similarities between their age-progressed image "and that of an existing photograph of a Spanish public official."
"The forensic artist was unable to find suitable features among the reference photographs and obtained those features, in part, from a photograph he found on the Internet," the statement sent to The Associated Press said.
The photo appeared on a U.S. State Department Web site rewardsforjustice.net, where a reward of up to $25 million is offered for bin Laden, wanted in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. The FBI said the photo of bin Laden will be removed from the Web site.
Llamazares said he planned to ask the U.S. government for an explanation and reserved the right to take legal action.
The State Department told a reporter to call back Tuesday after the U.S. federal Martin Luther King Day holiday on Monday.
Llamazares said he couldn't believe it when he was first told about the similarity, but he quickly realized the seriousness of the situation.
The 52-year-old politician said he would not feel safe traveling in the U.S. now, because many airports use biometrics technology that compares the physical characteristics of travelers to passport or other photographs.
"I have no similarity, physically or ideologically, to the terrorist bin Laden," he said.
They do share one characteristic — both are 52.
Jose Morales, spokesman for Llamazares' party, told the Associated Press that no one in Spain had any idea that important security computer images such as the retouched bin Laden photo were built up from photographs of real people. Llamazares, the former leader of his party, was elected to Spain's parliament in 2000.
"A technician has cut and paste in Photoshop a photograph he found out there on the Internet, and you don't have to be in Quantico — the agency's Virginia training facility — to do that," Morales told the AP.
Llamazares said it was worrying to see elite security services like the FBI resorting to such sloppy techniques, especially in the light of recent security alerts like the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane.
"It might provoke mirth, but it demonstrates that what we're seeing from security services isn't exactly recommendable," he said.
Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the lawless Pakistan frontier bordering Afghanistan. His exact whereabouts have been unknown since late 2001, when he and some bodyguards slipped out of the Tora Bora mountains, evading air strikes, U.S. special forces and Afghan militias.
The U.S. State Department Web site shows the photos and bounty on bin Laden and 41 others wanted for terrorism.
Morales said Llamazares had received calls from Spain's Prime, Foreign and Interior ministers, all expressing their concern and assuring him the government would ask the U.S. for explanations.