Search for bombers goes on-line

March 31, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

The U.S. government and a Southwest Baltimore printing company that helps catch international fugitives by putting their pictures on matchbooks have teamed up again -- using the Internet in the hunt for two suspected Libyan terrorists.

Twenty million computer users in 152 countries will be able to see on-line pictures of the two wanted men -- Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah -- as well as a $4 million reward offer printed in 11 languages.

Counterterrorist officials said it is the first time the worldwide network has been used in the search for terrorists. The men have been indicted in the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

"It's a new idea for the government. The Internet is a burgeoning new phenomenon and we thought it would be good to get our message out on that huge stream of information," said Brad Smith, a coordinator of the State Department's counterterrorist rewards program.

The on-line "wanted" posters were designed and put out on the Internet by the George W. King Co. in the 1200 block of S. Carey St. in Pigtown. The company also helped to create the matchbook program and printed tens of thousands of matchbooks that will be sent to the Middle East and North Africa to aid in the search for the two Libyan nationals.

"The ability to reach out worldwide instantly, without prints or electronic censoring by hostile governments, is a wonderful tool," said George A. Hughes, president of the King printing house.

King officials are the sole providers of printed reward materials for U.S. counterterrorist agents. Last month, one of their matchbooks helped catch Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, suspected of being the mastermind behind the World Trade Center bombing.

In response to a $2 million reward advertised on King company matchbooks, a South African student studying in Pakistan turned in Mr. Yousef, who was on the run in the South Asian nation. U.S. federal agents then brought Mr. Yousef back to the United States to stand trial.

Mr. Hughes said that in the past, his anti-terrorist ad campaigns used newspaper advertisements and posters. But those approaches fell easy prey to government censorship.

Nations that sponsor terrorism have refused to distribute copies of the Al Hayat Arab newspaper on the days that an anti-terrorist ad is printed, Mr. Hughes said.

"Governments haven't found out how to censor the phone lines" that carry Internet, Mr. Hughes observed.

The Internet has thousands of subscribers in the seven nations considered by the United States to be sponsors of international terrorism -- Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, said Mr. Smith of the counterterrorist squad.

Anti-terrorist advertisements have run in newspapers worldwide, and such actors as Charles Bronson, Charlton Heston and Charlie Sheen have been featured in public service announcements with Arabic voice-overs. But the Internet is the hope of the future, federal agents said.

"We plan to put more efforts into the Internet. It's cost-effective, and it can be downloaded at any time, 24 hours a day," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Al-Megrahi and Mr. Fhimah, described by U.S. officials as Libyan intelligence officers, were charged here and in Scotland in 1991 with planting a suitcase bomb aboard the Pan Am flight. Among the dead were 189 U.S. citizens, including several from Maryland.

To access the reward information on the global internet, type: http://www.clark.net/pub/heroes/.

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