- Associated Press - Monday, July 5, 2010

PARIS | International police agency Interpol launched an unusual appeal Monday to the global public to report sightings of 26 leading fugitives — whether on the street or on a Facebook page.

Interpol has been leading an international operation since May aimed at tracking down 450 particularly dangerous fugitives, and has arrested 39 people as a result, including former Colombian model Angie Sanclemente Valencia, wanted by Argentina for drug trafficking.

However, Interpol has failed to find a trace of 26 of the suspects, wanted for murder, human trafficking or child sex abuse. So on Monday, Interpol launched an appeal to the public to report any sign of the 26, releasing their photos and biographical information on its website.

It’s the first time Interpol has sought the public’s help to find so many suspects. The global crime-fighting body, which links police forces from 188 countries, normally works behind the scenes, but has had success with public appeals to find a few individual suspected pedophiles in the past.

Interpol is hoping that social networking sites prove a fruitful tool for the 26 fugitives on its new public list.

Many of the fugitives have been missing for years, “and when they first went missing there wasn’t much on the Internet,” Martin Cox, coordinator of the appeal, said.

Mr. Cox cited the case of U.S. citizen Christopher Ward Deininger, 25. As a teenager, Deininger committed sexual assaults on several children he was baby-sitting, then pleaded guilty and was ordered to 12 years of probation, according to a wanted notice from the U.S. Department of Justice. After four years, he fled the facility where he had been ordered to stay.

“We believe he still can be reoffending on these crimes,” Mr. Cox told Associated Press Television News in an interview at Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France. “He has escaped from America. He is now in Europe. He uses his languages. He can be working anywhere within France, within Spain, within Italy, because he speaks these languages fluently.”

Mr. Cox said Deininger is known to be involved in fantasy gaming and said Interpol hopes to track him down via other gamers. Many gamers, however, hide their real identities, and fellow gamers may not be eager to turn in a suspect.

Among others wanted in the public appeal are a South African accused of child rape, a Brazilian suspected of shooting police and drug trafficking, and a Lithuanian murder suspect. The appeal includes photos of suspects’ tattoos, languages spoken and facial-hair preferences.

The operation that began in May, called Infra-Red, focused on 450 fugitives and involved police from 29 countries working out of Interpol’s headquarters, Interpol said in a statement.