Thursday, March 21, 2013
The State Department has put a multimillion-dollar bounty on the
heads of two Americans who the United States claims belong to an al
Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, CNN has learned.
Posters and matchbooks in Somali and English emblazoned with the
names and pictures of Omar Shafik Hammami and Jehad Serwan Mostafa tout
rewards up to $5 million each for information leading to their arrest or
conviction. Both men are on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List.
The rewards are being offered through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program.
Hammami and Mostafa are members of Al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate
in Somalia, and “have made significant contributions to this terrorist
organization’s media and military activities,” according to a State
Department statement on the rewards, obtained by CNN. They are both are
believed to be in Somalia and speak English, Arabic and Somali.
A senior FBI official said the United States has information that
both men “had a persistent interest in targeting U.S. interests” and are
“believed to be involved in planning attacks on U.S. persons or
property.” But it is unclear what specific attacks against Americans,
even ones that have been thwarted, these men have taken part in.
Officials said that information is classified.
Hammami, a 29-year-old Alabama native, moved to Somalia in 2006. The
State Department claims he joined Al-Shabaab there and received training
from Islamic militants, rising through the organization’s ranks to
command a contingent of foreign fighters. Officials say he was also a
“propagandist” for the group, helping to recruit English-speaking youth
through writings, rap songs and video statements.
An Alabama court indicted him in 2009 on charges of providing support to a terrorist group.
In July 2011, the Treasury Department placed him on a blacklist
prohibiting Americans from doing business with individuals and groups
threatening stability in Somalia.
Hammami has been engaged in a public rift with Al-Shabaab over the
past year. Last March, he first expressed concern about his safety in an
extraordinary Web video. He has since criticized the group’s leaders
for corruption and living extravagant lifestyles with money fighters
collect from Somali residents, and for fighting only in Somalia while
ignoring global jihad.
Hammami’s family has said they fear for his life.
But the senior FBI official told CNN that Hammami’s current status
with the group is “immaterial” and that the reward is based on the
actions he has already taken to threaten U.S. interests.
“We still believe he is an individual of great significance to the
activities that are going on in Somalia with Al-Shabaab,” the official
Mostafa is believed to be either 27 or 32. He was born in Wisconsin
before moving California, where he attended college. He traveled to
Somalia in 2005, where officials say he led foreign fighters for
Al-Shabaab and served as a media expert and recruiter. He was indicted
in California on charges of providing material support to Al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab was labeled a foreign terrorist organization by the State
Department in 2008. The group was responsible for the July 2010 suicide
bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people, including a
U.S. citizen, gathering to watch a World Cup final soccer match.
Al-Shabaab is also believed to be responsible for numerous other attacks
in Somalia that have killed international aid workers, journalists,
civilian leaders and African Union peacekeepers.
In February 2012 the group’s leader, Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed and al
Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video announcing the alliance
of the two organizations. The Rewards for Justice Program is already
offering up to $7 million for information on seven other Al-Shabaab
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the rewards before
leaving office. Officials said they hope the rewards will generate new
leads from both Somalia and in Somali-American communities in the United
States. In addition to the posters and matchbooks, U.S. officials will
be talking with local media in Somalia to reach people that may have
information about the men’s whereabouts.
It is rare for the United States to offer a reward for an American
citizen. The most notable previous reward offered for an American was $1
million for Adam Gadahn, who has served as senior operative and
spokesman for the core al Qaeda organization.
Officials said that in addition to their leadership roles with a
terrorist group, the men are of great interest because of their work
trying to recruit other English-speaking youth.
“Anytime we have U.S. citizens who are trying to affiliate with
groups to obtain experience and training and have the opportunity to
bring back that lethal experience back to the United States, it’s a
concern,” a State Department diplomatic security official said. “There
is no question the cases against these two guys are based on their
activities to date. However, we have a continuing interest in terrorist
activates in Somalia right up to now. And these men serve as very
powerful images for radicalization and recruitment.”
The new bounties raise the question of what the United States will do
with the men once they find them. The Obama administration drew fire
from Congress and human rights groups for killing two Americans who
belonged to the al Qaeda branch in Yemen. In September 2011, U.S. drone
strikes killed Anwar al -Awlaki, a firebrand preacher from New Mexico
who began running propaganda for al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula and rose
to become a senior operative in the group, and Samir Khan from North
Carolina, who created an English-language Internet magazine for the
Both officials said the Rewards for Justice Program — administered by
the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security — is not involved
in drone programs and the intent of the reward is to obtain information
that will lead to the men’s apprehension and prosecution.
“The purpose of the program is to gather information to bring these
guys back lawfully,” the senior FBI official said. “We want to bring
these people before a court.”
The Rewards for Justice Program pays large sums of money for
information that leads to the arrest or conviction of anyone who plans,
commits or attempts international terrorist acts. Earlier this year,
President Obama expanded the program to include payments for information
about people involved in transnational organized crime or foreign
nationals wanted by any international criminal tribunal for war crimes
The program has a track record of gaining actionable intelligence.
Since its inception in 1984, the program has paid more than $125 million
to more than 80 people who provided information that put terrorists
behind bars or prevented acts of international terrorism worldwide. The
program was central to the capture of Saddam Hussein’s sons Odai and
Qusai; Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing;
Under the Rewards for Justice Program, a $25 million reward was
offered for information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden.