US offers $23m bounty for Islamists in Africa

 

Betraying new anxiety about the threat of Islamic militant groups in West Africa, Washington is for the first time offering rewards totalling $23m (£15m) for information leading to the capture of their top leaders in the region including Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, based in Nigeria.

While the US Rewards for Justice programme has been tapped to put bounties on top targets, mostly associated with al-Qa’ida, in other regions, it is the first time it has been deployed in Africa. Posters of the men advertising the rewards will be distributed in parts of Mali, Niger and Nigeria, officials said.

The highest single reward of $7 million is offered for Mr Shekau, who has been behind the insurgency in northeast Nigeria that has claimed the lives of about 4,000 people since 2009. Boko Haram is also thought to have ties with Al-Qa’ida’s North African arm known as al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.

Authorised by Secretary of State, John Kerry, the initiative also puts a $5 million bounty on  Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed Algerian terrorist nicknamed ‘The Uncatchable’ and leader of the group that carried out January’s raid on a gas plant in Algeria that led to the deaths of at least 37 hostages, including 5 Britons.  He also claimed partial responsibility for an attack on an army base and uranium mine owned by a French company in Niger last month.

The spreading of al-Qa’ida roots in the region is causing particular alarm in western capitals. The capture by al-Qa’ida-associated insurgents of northern Mali in 2012 led to a military intervention by the French military. Rewards of $5m have also been offered for Yahya Abu el Hammam, an Algerian leader of AQIM, and of $3 million each for two Malians: Malik Abou Abdelkarim, an AQIM commander, and Ouma Ould Hamaha, the spokesman for MUJAO, whose fighters were implicated in attacks last month in Niger

“AQIM has been increasingly active in north and west Africa,” a State Department official told AFP, the news agency. “They cause us a great deal of concern. Anything we can do naturally to cut down on the capabilities of AQIM, anything that we can do to get information on these people so that we can get them in front of a court. That is our goal.”

A suspected extremist in Mali blew himself up while running for cover in an abandoned house in the city of Kital, new wires reported. Witnesses said the man had been wearing an explosive vest. The incident occurred in a neighbourhood where last week snipers open fire on a French military convoy lightly wounding one soldier.

The State Department announced that it was offering rewards for information leading to the location of the leaders of al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as other terrorist organizations operating in North and West Africa. The rewards, the first for the region, include $5 million each for the leader of the Qa'ida regional franchise, Yahya Abu el-Hamman, and for Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of a group that carried out a raid on a gas plant in Algeria that led to the deaths of at least 37 hostages, including 3 Americans. The department offered up to $7 million for information on Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, an Islamist group in Nigeria

four Islamist militant groups in west Africa, in a sign of growing international concern about terrorist activity in the region.

The move targets Nigeria’s Boko Haram and three groups operating further north in the Sahel: Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in west Africa (MUJAO) and the Signed-in-Blood Battalion. It is the first time the US Rewards for Justice programme has been used in west Africa.

he capture of northern Mali by al-Qa'ida linked Islamist groups in 2012 raised the alarm about the mounting terror threat in the region, and led to French intervention in January. Though the militants were dispersed from their Malian bases, most of their leaders escaped and have continued to mount attacks on western targets in Algeria and Niger.

The biggest reward, of up to $7m, was offered for information leading to the location of Abubakar Shekau, the head of Boko Haram. The group is behind an insurgency in northeast Nigeria that has claimed nearly 4,000 lives since 2009. Its agenda has a domestic focus but it bombed a UN office in the capital Abuja in August 2011 and has reported links with groups such as AQIM.

John Kerry, US secretary of state, also authorised a reward of $5m for information on the location of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed Algerian terrorist nicknamed “The Uncatchable”. His group, the Signed-in Blood-Battalion, carried out for the siege at the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria in January in which 37 hostages were killed, including three American citizens. He also claimed partial responsibility for the twin attack in May in Niger on an army base and uranium mine owned by French nuclear company Areva.

he US offered $5m for information leading to the location of Yahya Abu el Hammam, an Algerian leader of AQIM, which has carried out terrorist attacks in Mauritania and Algeria and kidnapped numerous western hostages for ransom. Rewards of up to $3m were announced for two Malians: Malik Abou Abdelkarim, an AQIM commander, and Ouma Ould Hamaha, the spokesman for MUJAO, whose fighters were also involved in last month’s attacks in Niger.

A man suspected of being an extremist ran for cover inside an abandoned house in the northern Malian city of Kidal, and detonated an explosive vest inside the structure, killing only himself.

Resident Ali Cisse said the explosion occurred around 11 a.m. in the Aliou neighborhood of Kidal, the same district where last week an unidentified gunman opened fire on a French convoy, lightly wounding a French soldier. Cisse said the man ran into a house not far from the residence of Iyad Ag Ghali, leader of Ansar Dine, a local jihadist group working with al-Qaida's North African chapter. Ansar Dine was chased out of northern Mali by French forces in January.

Cisse said the bomber couldn't be identified because his body was torn to bits by the explosion.

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