By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor, Adekunle Aliyu, Charles Kumolu, Uduma Kalu, with Agency report
LAGOS —THE United States took an unprecedented step, yesterday, when it posted a price tag of $23million, an equivalent of N3.3 billion on the head of top Al- Qaeda-linked terrorists in Nigeria and West Africa. Nigeria’s Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, attracts the highest reward of $7 million (N1.1 billion) for anybody that can provide information that can lead to his capture.
The $23 million reward money shelled out by the US include the sum of $5 million placed on Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian-based Al-Qaeda, who led the hostages attack in Southern Algerian town of Menas in February 2013. He was later reported to have been killed by Chadian troops in Mali.
Another sum of $5 million was placed on Yahya Abou Al-Hammam, a top leader of Ansar Dine in Mali, while the names of two others were not available at press time. A US official in Washington told AFP that US is determined to hunt down the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The US which has been hesitant to declare Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, (FTO), has set in motion a massive manhunt for the terrorist leaders, who have spread insecurity across Nigeria and West Africa.
Officials of US Embassy told Vanguard that they were awaiting clarification from Washington but would not rule out the possiblity of such move from the US government which is growing impatient with activities of the Islamic militants in West Africa. The US has already set up a surveillance drone base in NigerRepublic.
The US State Department, last year, designated three Boko Haram leaders as terrorists. They are Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid el Barnawi, all thought to have ties with a branch of Al-Qaeda.
The move meant any assets belonging to the men in the US would be frozen, and contact with US citizens banned.
The United States thinks that some members of Boko Harem have connections with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group already designated as a terrorist organisation by the US.
Also last year, some US lawmakers wanted the US State Department to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, FTO, a formal move that would trigger automatic sanctions against the Islamist militant group. The lawmakers said the Justice Department in Washington supports the designation.
Three US senators introduced a bill that would force the State Department to take a decision, because they felt that Boko Haram is “becoming increasingly lethal and forging closer ties to Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab,” an Islamist militant group in Somalia.
US Senators Scott Brown, Saxby Chambliss and Jim Risch say Boko Haram is a threat both to the international community and US national security.
JTF’s earlier reward
The JTF had earlier placed N50 million bounty on Abubakar Shekau; N25 million on Habibu Yusuf (a.k.a Asalafi), Khaho Albarnawai, Momodu Bama and Moyamme Zangina while N10 million was placed on 14 other Boko Haram commanders including Abu Saad, Abu Kaka, Aboulamakka Bama and Umar Fuyata.
This was contained in a press statement released by the spokesperson of the JTF, Lt.Col Sagir Musa, on November 23, 2012.
It’s good development — FG
The Federal Government has welcomed the decision by the United States of America to place a $7m bounty on the leader of the Boko Haram sect.
In an interview with Vanguard, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati said the stand of the United States government is a welcome development.
Abati said: “It is a positive development, we welcome any effort of the international community to support Nigeria’s effort at waging war against terrorism and its perpetrators. What this proves is that terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires global effort at combating it. Nigeria believes that the international community needs to come together to combat terrorism.”
Bio Data of Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, is Nigeria’s most wanted man. He has also been designated a terrorist by the US government.
He is said to be a fearless loner, a complex, paradoxical man – part intellectual, part gangster. Fondly called Imam or leader by his followers, Shekau was born in Shekau village in YobeState.
Some say he is 34 or 35, others say that he may be 43 – the uncertainty adds to the myths surrounding Nigeria’s most wanted man. A radical theology student, Shekau was once thought to have been killed by security forces in 2009 – only for him to re-appear in videos posted on the internet less than a year later as Boko Haram’s new leader. “I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill”, the Boko Haram leader once said.
The group’s founder, Muhammad Yusuf died in police custody, and hundreds of others were killed during that massive crackdown – which many blame for making the group even more violent.
Shekau has not been seen in public since. Instead, still images and video clips of him are released from time to time, mostly online, by the group’s faceless “public enlightenment department”.
Shekau is said to have met his predecessor in Maiduguri, capital of BornoState and now Boko Haram’s headquarters, through a mutual friend, Mamman Nur. Authorities say Nur masterminded the August 2011 bombing of the UN office complex in Nigeria Abuja.
All three were theology students – and Shekau was seen as the quietest and perhaps the most radical of them.
“He hardly talks, he is fearless,” says Ahmed Salkida, a journalist with good access to Boko Haram.
Under Shekau, Boko Haram has become more radical and carried out more killings. He says he only escaped summary execution by Maiduguri police after an intelligence officer intervened.
“He is one of those who believes that you can sacrifice anything for your belief,” Salkida says.
Shekau is fluent in his native Kanuri, Hausa and Arabic languages – he does not speak English.
“I used to joke with him that he should teach me Arabic and I would teach him English,” Salkida says.
When Yusuf was killed, Mr Shekau is said to have married one of his four wives and adopted their children – perhaps, say sources who do not want to be named, to preserve Boko Haram’s cohesion or “purity”.
The group has a highly decentralised structure – the unifying force is ideology.
Mr Shekau does not communicate directly with the group’s foot soldiers – he is said to wield his power through a few select cell leaders, but even then contact is minimal.