The US is offering rewards of up to US$7 million for information leading to the location of seven key leaders of Somalia’s al-Shabaab, seeking for the first time to target top echelons of the al-Qaeda-linked militant group.
US officials said the rewards, to be announced on the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Web site yesterday, opened a new front in the battle against al-Shabaab and signaled Washington’s determination to press the fight against terrorism across Africa.
“This is the first time we’ve had key leaders of al-Shabaab as part of the Rewards for Justice program,” said Robert Hartung, an assistant director at the US Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which administers the program.
“Every time we add someone to the Rewards for Justice site, that is a signal that the US government is sending that it takes the fight against terrorism very seriously,” Hartung said.
The US government in 2008 named al-Shabaab to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, imposing financial and other restrictions on the group that had seized control of large areas of south and central Somalia, and sought to impose its strict version of Islam on the impoverished Horn of Africa nation.
Yesterday’s announcement would for the first time set specific prices on the heads of al-Shabaab leaders, topped by a reward of up to US$7 million for information on the whereabouts of Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, the group’s founder and overall commander.
Rewards of up to US$5 million are being offered for Ibrahim Haji Jama, another al-Shabaab co-founder, and group financier Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, along with military commander Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud and Mukhtar Robow, who often serves as the group’s spokesman.
The US government would pay rewards of up to US$3 million for information on the whereabouts of intelligence chief Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi and Abdullahi Yare, another senior figure, Hartung said.
US officials say the Rewards for Justice program has paid out more than US$100 million to more than 70 informants since it was established in 1984, and helped to find and convict 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, among others.