NAIROBI — The United States said on Monday it was increasing its reward for information about key leaders of Somalia's Al Shabaab to $10 million apiece, a move that follows a spate of deadly attacks by the terrorist group.
The US State Department also said it was for the first time offering a reward of up to $10 million for information "leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms" of the Al Qaeda affiliate.
Al Shabaab fighters have stepped up attacks in the Somali capital Mogadishu and other parts of the country in the face of a widescale offensive against the group by the new government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
The US said it was offering up to $10 million each for information leading to the identification of Al Shabaab "emir" Ahmed Diriye, second-in-command Mahad Karate and Jehad Mostafa, a US citizen who it said had various roles in the group.
"These key leaders of Al Shabaab are responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Somalia, Kenya and neighbouring countries that have killed thousands of people," said a poster issued by the US with pictures of the three men.
UN human rights chief Volker Turk said earlier Monday that more than 600 civilians had been killed this year in attacks largely attributed to the group.
At least 613 civilians have been killed and 948 injured so far in 2022, according to the latest United Nations figures — the highest since 2017 and a more-than 30 per cent rise from last year.
In the deadliest attack in five years, twin bombings on October 29 claimed by Al Shabaab killed at least 121 people and injured 333 others in Mogadishu, the UN said, citing Somali figures.
The group, which was designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the State Department in March 2008, has been seeking to overthrow the fragile foreign-backed government in Mogadishu for about 15 years.
Its fighters were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 by an African Union force, but the group still controls swathes of countryside and continues to wage deadly strikes on civilian, political and military targets.
In August, following a 30-hour siege on a Mogadishu hotel that killed at least 21 people, Mohamud declared "all-out war" on the terrorists, who espouse a strict version of sharia or Islamic law.
The US statement said Diriye, who has been leader since September 2014 after the killing of Ahmed Abdi Godane in a US strike, was designated by the US as a "specially designated global terrorist" in April 2015, and slapped with UN sanctions the same year.
Karate, who was also designated a terrorist in April 2015 and also faces UN sanctions, continues to lead some Al Shabaab operations, the US said.
He also "maintains some command responsibility over Amniyat, the group's intelligence and security wing, which oversees suicide attacks and assassinations in Somalia, Kenya, and other countries in the region, and provides logistics and support for Al Shabaab's terrorist activities".
Mostafa, a US citizen who once lived in California, has been a military instructor at Al Shabaab training camps, as well as a leader of foreign fighters, a leader in the group's media wing, an intermediary with other "terrorist organisations" and a leader in the use of explosives in attacks, the US said.
In December 2019, he was indicted in a US court on various charges linked to Al Shabaab.
"The FBI assesses Mostafa to be the highest-ranking terrorist with US citizenship fighting overseas."
In May, US President Joe Biden decided to restore a military presence in Somalia, approving a request from the Pentagon, which deemed his predecessor Donald Trump's rotation system too risky and ineffective.