WASHINGTON -- Evil Bert, meet Evil Osama.
Right now, the two appear to be inseparable -- at least on ubiquitous posters carried by pro-Taliban demonstrators.
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Devotees of freak-humor websites will recall the infamous "Bert is Evil" page, a shrine to the gourd-like Sesame Street character, which offers compelling photographic evidence of the muppet consorting with Hitler, the KKK and, of course, Jerry Springer.
Now, in a move that defies all rules of logic, a doctored photo showing Bert with the world's most-wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, seems to have made its way into an anti-American Islamic protest in Bangladesh.
Reuters photographs of a rally this week organized by Jaamiat-e-Talabaye Arabia, a radical Islamic organization, show that protesters created a pro-bin Laden sign out of a collage of photos they apparently lifted from Internet sites.
An editor at Reuters' photo desk in Washington confirmed that the maize-colored muppet did appear in the photograph. "It is in the original image, though I couldn't say how it got there. It wasn't hacked," the editor said.
One of the first sightings of the Osama-Bert poster was in a news photo on a Netherlands portal site. Enterprising Net-researchers soon reported it appeared in Sweden's leading tabloid, and also on Yahoo's news photos section.
The "Bert is Evil" webmaster replied by writing this on his website: "Yesterday a lot of you alerted me to a picture of a Taliban propaganda poster with Bert! Reality is imitating the Web! I am honestly freaked out! Holy shit!"
In an e-mail message to Wired News, webmaster Dino Ignacio said: "My theory is that the Taliban have Internet too. And I think Bert is universal enough to appeal to them, too."
A closer scrutiny of one of the photos reveals a second apparent faux pas on the part of the radical Islamic protesters: Another clip art photo of bin Laden used in the photograph seems to show him with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
It didn't take long for word to spread. A discussion on lindqvist.com is titled: "The mystery of the Bert-bin Laden connection evolves with more images coming in every day. Is this a big hoax? Has somebody got too much time? Or is somebody in Bangladesh trying to confuse the world?"
Bert is best known for his role on the long-lived Sesame Street children's show, where he lives with his housemate Ernie.
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More stories written by Declan McCullagh