June 11, 2012
Somali parties welcomed the inclusion of seven top al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab leaders on the United States' most wanted list, which offers millions of dollars for information leading to their whereabouts under the Rewards for Justice programme.
The United States announced on June 7th that it would offer up to $33 million in exchange for information regarding the whereabouts of seven senior al-Shabaab leaders.
The Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) said the cash incentives were an important step to deny terrorists any opportunity to escape justice.
The highest amount was offered for the founder of the group, Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, also known as Ahmed Godane or Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair, with the US State Department offering a $7 million reward for information on his whereabouts.
The TFG said Godane is "responsible for killing innocent civilians across Somalia, including a series of terror attacks that al-Shabaab operated in neighbouring countries".
A further $5 million was offered for other al-Shabaab members: Ibrahim Haji Jama, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud and Mukhtar Robow.
Up to $3 million was offered for Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi and Abdullahi Yare.
The United States listed al-Shabaab as a terrorist organisation in 2008, but this is the first time it has included the movement's leaders in its Rewards for Justice programme.
Somali officials said the US bounty is in line with the Somali government's bounty announced in April that offers cash incentives of up to $500 for citizens who provide information that leads to the killing or capture of al-Shabaab operatives.
Somali Deputy Minister of Defence Mohamed Ali Atoosh said the bounty offered by the United States will help the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia.
"The Somali government welcomes this new initiative by the US government, which parallels rewards offered by the transitional government," Atoosh told Sabahi, adding that al-Shabaab poses a stability threat to Somalia and the whole of eastern Africa.
Somali government allied militia Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa (ASWJ) also welcomed the rewards initiative.
"This American bounty is a step forward in the fight against al-Shabaab," Sheikh Abdulqadir Soomow, spokesperson for the ASWJ Supreme Council, told Sabahi.
"A bounty placed on senior al-Shabaab leaders might arouse fears among the wanted leaders and create a crisis of confidence within the ranks of the movement," he said. "This could lead to disintegration of its leadership who, as of now, are wanted and will only think of hiding and restricting their movement in public to avoid being identified by citizens."
Soomow said al-Shabaab leaders will be in constant fear -- even from their bodyguards and other members of the movement -- as the intelligence services try to penetrate their ranks.
"We consider targeting al-Shabaab's leadership a significant step because killing off their leaders will have a huge impact on the cohesion and future of the movement," he said.
Analysts say the bounties offered by the US and Somali governments will add to the mounting pressure on al-Shabaab at a time when major victories against the movement have been accomplished through military operations.
"This new bounty is likely to increase pressure on al-Shabaab, which has faced attacks on several fronts in central and southern Somalia," Ismail Abdullahi, a political analyst living in Mogadishu, told Sabahi.
"From now on, wanted leaders will have to constantly look over their shoulders and all around them. They will have to hide away from people's eyes and those of the intelligence services," he said. "Even if this move does not result in capturing al-Shabaab's leaders in the near future, increasing the pressure on al-Shabaab is a key factor in the strategy that seeks to destroy the movement as a military force."
Abdullahi said some signs of weakness and divisions have emerged within al-Shabaab. Last week, reports revealed that al-Shabaab leaders are fleeing the city of Kismayo, the movement's last key stronghold.
Abdirahman Mahmoud, an analyst and researcher on radical groups, said the bounty will likely lead to members of al-Shabaab betraying their leaders to get their hands on the offered money.
"There has been an atmosphere of suspicion and a crisis of confidence that permeated [the inner circles] of al-Shabaab, and this new bounty, in my opinion, will only deepen this internal crisis in the upcoming phase," Mahmoud told Sabahi.
"I do not doubt the emergence of double agents who would want to benefit from this opportunity or, at least, some of al-Shabaab's operatives -- especially the low-ranking leaders -- will abandon ship and inform on the wanted leaders to get their hands on the US bounty money," he said.
Mahmoud lauded the use of financial rewards in exchange for capturing the most prominent al-Shabaab leaders, calling it an effective way to encourage those who have information to come forward.
"These large bounties offered by the United States will encourage those who have information regarding the hideouts of wanted al-Shabaab leaders to come forward," he said.
Al-Shabaab dismissed the US bounty offer and pledged to continue fighting.
"The non-believers know who are the good Muslim leaders -- and that is why the money is offered for their whereabouts," a statement published on website affiliated with the movement said, according to AFP. "While some mujahedeen leaders have already been killed by such plans, others continue the jihad."
Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, one of the al-Shabaab leaders with a $5 million bounty on his head, mocked the US reward for his capture. "I can assure you that these kinds of things will never dissuade us from continuing the holy war against them," he said on radio programmes broadcast June 9th.
"Since 2006, al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for several bombings -- including suicide attacks in central and northern Somalia and in the capital of Mogadishu," the US State Department said in a statement June 7th. "The group is responsible for the killing of thousands of Somali civilians, Somali peace activists, international aid workers, journalists and African Union peacekeepers."
The statement said al-Shabaab also attacked neighbouring Uganda and threatened attacks on US, Kenyan and Burundian interests.
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