US reward for info on Al Qaeda kingpins

Agence France Presse

Islamabad, January 7:

The United States today advertised rewards in a top Pakistani daily for information leading to the capture of 14 Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. The half-page advertisement in the Urdu language newspaper Jang, placed by the US embassy in Islamabad, features mugshots of the wanted men and said anyone giving details to special hotlines or email address would remain anonymous.

The United States has offered up to $25 million each for 9/11 mastermind Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, while Taliban chief Omar has a $10 million price on his head.

The unusual step represents a renewed effort to track down the main Al-Qaeda hierarchy, amid fears that Bin Laden’s trail has gone cold three years after the hardline Taliban were ousted in neighbouring Afghanistan.

US diplomatic sources said it was the first time the embassy had placed an ad of this kind, adding that it was part of a campaign to publish the US Rewards for Justice programme.

Pakistan, a crucial US ally in the so-called war on terror, has already captured around 600 Al-Qaeda men including some key operatives but the most senior figures have eluded the dragnet. US officials believe they are hiding somewhere in the mountains on the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, although all of the key seizures to date have been in crowded Pakistani cities. Jang, with a circulation of nearly three million, is also widely read in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region along the border, where Pakistani troops have conducted operations since late 2003 to capture or kill Al-Qaeda fugitives.

The other suspects in the advertisement each carry a reward of $5 million for “terrorist” activities such as making explosives, training and methods of using poison for terror attacks.

The biggest coup in the US’s war on terror came in Pakistan when key September 11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested in Islamabad’s twin city Rawalpindi in 2003.

Last year Pakistan made several major Al-Qaeda arrests including Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, convicted for the 1998 twin bombings of US embassies in east Africa, and Pakistani Al-Qaeda computer expert Naeem Noor Khan. Khan’s arrest led to the uncovering of a worldwide Al-Qaeda wing plotting fresh terror strikes in Britain, the United States and Pakistan, prompting the US to raise its terror alert.