Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US forks out big rewards in financial war on terror


Money talks, or so the US thinks when it comes to the war on terror.

As it leads a global campaign to choke the secret funding networks of terrorist organizations, the US is stumping up more hard cash as reward to lure people to expose the sanctuaries of terror kingpins.

Aside from military firepower and global intelligence cooperation, cash rewards have played a crucial role in dismantling terrorist networks across the world since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the US, officials say.

Money "can be persuasive," says Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman of the US State Department, which runs a "Reward for Justice" program offering more than US$200 million in bounties for the capture or information leading to the arrest of 30 top suspected terrorists, including al-Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden.

"Past experience has indicated that large rewards can produce results," he said, justifying the more than two-fold increase last week in the reward offer for the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who is believed to be spearheading the insurgency in Iraq.

It was the second time in five months that the reward for al-Zarqawi had been increased and his current bounty of US$25 million equals that for bin Laden.

The US military has accused al-Zarqawi of marshaling resources and masterminding attacks waged by loyalists attached to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Saddam and his two sons had also been on the US rewards list.

While Saddam, who had a US$25 million bounty on his head, was captured by members of the 4th Infantry Division last December, his sons Uday and Qusay were shot dead by US troops after being fingered by an Iraqi who was paid a reported US$30 million for the information.

Under the US reward program, Ereli said, some US$56 million had been paid to people worldwide for providing key tips on terror suspects.

In Iraq, the department has paid out some US$3 millions in rewards so far for information on Iraqi insurgents.

"So, it's a program that works," Ereli said. He dismissed the notion that the increase in the reward offer to US$25 million for al-Zarqawi might not have any takers since no one had come forward to expose him since his bounty was raised to US$10 million in February.

Among the top seven high-ranking terror suspects captured or convicted under the reward program was Kuwaiti-born Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks with bin Laden.

There was a US$25 million bounty on his head when Pakistani police picked him up in a house owned by a worker of a religious party in the city of Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad in March last year.

Five months later, Thailand received US$10 million from the US for arresting Hambali, the alleged operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian wing of the al-Qaeda group blamed for the Bali bombings in 2002.

Hambali was arrested in a raid on his modest rented apartment in the central Thai town of Ayutthaya.

Among the first to be captured and convicted under the reward program was Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the mastermind of the bombing of New York's World Trade Center in 1993 that killed six, injured more than 1,000 and caused millions of dollars in damage.

US officials are confident of more successes under the program.

Together with bin Laden and al-Zarqawi in the US$25 million bounty league is Ayman al-Zawahiri, an advisor and doctor to bin Laden who is under indictment in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

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