spain is shocked over blunder by FBI with osama bin laden image

MADRID - The US state department's "wanted" website showed an ageing Osama bin Laden, with wrinkles, grey hair and a short beard - but the picture did not only look like the world's most wanted terrorist.

MADRID - The US state department's "wanted" website showed an ageing Osama bin Laden, with wrinkles, grey hair and a short beard - but the picture did not only look like the world's most wanted terrorist.

"He looks just like (Gaspar) Llamazares," a Spanish Internet user quipped to his companions - only to discover, on investigating the matter more closely, that the al-Qaeda leader's hair and front were identical with those of the Spanish far-left politician.

When it then turned out that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had used an online picture of Llamazares to update its "wanted" photo of bin Laden, Spanish commentators could hardly believe it.

An organisation with a budget of billions of dollars was resorting to comic-like methods in its pursuit of terrorists and criminals, said the daily El Mundo, which made the case public.

"It makes one shiver to think in whose hands" Western security was, the daily said in an editorial.

The website showing the image of the 52-year-old bin Laden - the same age as Llamazares - lists a reward of up to R184million for the capture of the al-Qaeda leader, whose whereabouts are still unknown.

The forensic artist had not been satisfied with the alternatives offered by FBI computer programmes to create the picture, and "decided to make use of Google images on his own initiative", an FBI spokesman told El Mundo.

The artist had used an "unauthorised" method, the daily El Pais quoted a US embassy spokesperson as saying. It also turned out that the FBI had used Llamazares's features not only to create a picture of bin Laden, but also that of a Libyan terrorist suspect.

Spaniards know Llamazares as one of the country's foremost far-left politicians. He headed the party Izquierda Unida (United Left). He is now spokesperson for the parliamentary foreign affairs commission.

Llamazares described the use of his features to portray bin Laden as "shameless" and said it raised questions about citizens' security.

The politician said he would no longer dare to travel to the US or other countries where the bin Laden image could jeopardise his security. The FBI said the choice of Llamazares for the picture was accidental, but the politician suspected it might have been linked to his far-left convictions.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Llamazares he regarded the incident as "very serious" and would request an explanation from the US embassy in Madrid.

An embassy official called Llamazares to apologise and promised to investigate. Interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba was due to meet the US ambassador to Spain yesterday. The picture containing Llamazares's features has been removed from the US state department's website. Llamazares was nevertheless considering taking legal action against the FBI. - Sapa-DPA

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