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Originally published June 25, 2013 at 8:05 PM | Page modified June 26, 2013 at 6:44 AM

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FBI’s bus ads taken down over Muslim/terrorist stereotyping

The ads, featuring 16 photos of wanted terrorists, will be taken down after complaints that the ads promoted stereotypes.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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After a wave of criticism from politicians, advocacy groups and the public, 46 bus ads featuring photos of wanted terrorists will be taken down within the next few weeks, officials said Tuesday.

The “Faces of Global Terrorism” ad was criticized for promoting stereotypes of Muslims and painting a broad brush against one group.

The ad is part of a campaign launched earlier this month by the Puget Sound Joint Terrorism Task Force for the U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program. It features 16 photos of wanted terrorists sandwiched between the taglines “Faces of Global Terrorism” and “Stop a Terrorist. Save Lives. Up to $25 Million Reward.”

Titan, the company that handles King County Metro bus advertising, received a request Tuesday afternoon from the task force that the ads be taken down, according to King County Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer. Two different ads without photos will remain on billboards, light rail and at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The decision to remove the bus ads was “a result of our continued engagement with the community and the feedback we are getting,” FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt said.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott wrote a letter last week to FBI Director Robert Mueller expressing concern over the ads, saying the ad would “only serve to exacerbate the disturbing trend of hate crimes against Middle Eastern, South Asian and Muslim-Americans.”

“When you start saying that this is the face of terrorism, you are really stigmatizing a whole group of people,” McDermott, D-Seattle, said Tuesday.

King County Metro received a half-dozen complaints through the customer information line, Switzer said.

Lynnwood resident Jeff Siddiqui, the founder of American Muslims of Puget Sound, said he received phone calls from other Muslims in Seattle who said they were concerned for their safety. He said the ad would be similarly objectionable if the government were to post photos of men from another ethnic group on billboards with the tagline “the face of murders in the United States.”

“It is affecting all kinds of people who have no experience with Muslims, who look at it and say, ‘Oh, Muslims are the face of global terrorism,’ ” Siddiqui said.

The 16 men in the ad are affiliated with extremist groups around the world. Seven are from African countries, four are from the Philippines, one each is from Malaysia and Chechnya, and three were born in the United States.

When a bus is whizzing by at 35 mph, McDermott said, it’s difficult to look closely at each photo and see the differences.

“The impression you get is that terrorism is caused by brown-skinned men with beards, and occasionally they wear a turban — which isn’t true,” McDermott said.

Gutt said the State Department solicited input from community members before the ads were placed and has continued that relationship.

Department staff members attended a meeting on Monday night with several community and civil-rights organizations, and staff members were open to establishing a campaign that combats terrorism while being respectful to minority communities, according to McDermott’s office.

“I am glad, because now we can start again, we can rebuild a relationship,” Siddiqui said. “Please God, let it be a relationship of open communication and trust.”

The ads will be taken down in the next seven to 10 days, Switzer said.

Seattle is the first city in the United States targeted for the campaign, according to Gutt. The city has a diverse population that travels and has connections internationally, which makes it an effective area for the pilot program, he said.

The Rewards for Justice Program was created in 1984 and reviews tips for credible information that leads to the arrest or conviction of terrorism or prevents terrorist acts from occurring. The program has paid about $125 million to more than 80 people and played a significant role in the 1995 arrest of Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2517 or pcornwell@seattletimes.com

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