Running from the law? The bounty on your head depends on who you kill...or if you are an African

Attacks on US interests and citizens is a key factor in the size of the bounty – more than causing death or destruction in a more “generalised” sense.

OVER the weekend, Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) said they should get a reward for capturing a Ugandan militia leader wanted for war crimes, who has a $5 million bounty on his head.

Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was taken into US custody last week.

Ongwen, believed to be a deputy commander to LRA chief Joseph Kony, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Seleka’s second-in-command Mounir Ahamat complained that the US did not even recognise what Seleka had done to capture Ongwen. “If they don’t give us that money, they could at least say it’s thanks to us they were able to get this lieutenant colonel. Not only they did not give us the money, but they didn’t recognise what we have done in the field,” he is quoted to have said.

But the Seleka-LRA story is not as straightforward as it first appears. In July, the Ugandan army accused Seleka of aiding the LRA, by “forcing civilians” to provide food to the LRA rebels.

It’s almost bemusing that one rebel group (also accused of committing deadly atrocities) should demand recognition - and a reward - for “capturing” a leader from another rebel group they have been helping – there’s no honour among thieves, it seems.

Still, the capture comes just weeks after another American-wanted criminal with a $3 million bounty surrendered.

Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, believed to be Al-Shabaab’s head of intelligence gave himself up to Somali and African Union forces in the Geddo region where Somalia borders Kenya and Ethiopia.

Since Hersi surrendered, it appears the US doesn’t have to pay out the $3 million bounty, but in the days following his surrender, there was a tussle between Kenya and Somalia as to where Hersi should be detained, with Somalia first insisting he was a Somali citizen and thus should be held in Somalia, but eventually he was handed to Kenyan authorities.

The US has several information-for-cash programmes that are intended to bring wanted criminals to justice.

Big pay-out days

Two of the most prominent that have Africans on their most wanted lists are the Rewards for Justice Programme, that gives financial rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of terrorists or disrupts terrorism financing, and the War Crimes Rewards Programme, that focuses on persons suspected of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide; the majority of suspects under this programme are indicted for their role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The largest payment to date under the Rewards for Justice Programme was $30 million paid to one individual who provided information that led to the location and subsequent killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s thuggish sons who seemed like they would become even more brutal than their father.

But looking at the most wanted lists of the two rewards programmes reveals some interesting – and unexpected – hints as to how the US conceptualises justice and injustice.

It’s America first

From the outset, the Rewards for Justice is explicit that US interests and attacks on US citizens is a crucial factor in how much money they are prepared to put up – more than causing death or destruction in a more “generalised” sense.

The programme’s website says that payment amounts are based on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, “the threat posed by a given terrorist, the severity of the danger or injury to U.S. persons or property (emphasis mine), the value of the information provided, the risk faced by a source and his/her family, and the degree of a source’s cooperation in an investigation or trial.”

The largest bounty on the terror list is $25 million on Ayman al-Zawhiri, founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group and leader of al-Qaeda. Al Qaeda and all its major affiliates are estimated to have killed a cumulative 8,600 people since 2000, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2014.

The second on the list is Nigerian Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau, with “just” $7 million on his head; Boko Haram has killed more than 10,000 in the past year alone – and estimates from the Council of Foreign Relations put the total figure at 16,000 since 2011 - and more than 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes.

Most of the other wanted terrorist leaders have bounties ranging from $3 million to $5 million.

Shabaab is big ticket

Somalia’s Al-Shabaab has the highest bounty in total, $37 million for nine of its leaders on the list, excluding Zakariya Ahmed who recently gave himself up. 

The group has killed just under 2,000 people, according to the Global Terrorism Index – an eighth that of Boko Haram – but having more Western targets has raised their international profile such that their cumulative bounty is three times higher that than of Boko Haram, even if we count Boko’s affiliates - Khalid al-Barnawi, the leader of a Boko Haram offshoot, Ansaru, has a $5 million bounty on his head.

 But some other “interesting” fellows are on the list too. Mohammed Makawi Ibrahim Mohamed and Abdelbasit Alhaj Alhassan Hamad were implicated in the murder of two people: one US citizen, John Granville, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) employee and his Sudanese driver, Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama, who were shot and killed on their way home from a New Year’s Eve celebration on January 1, 2008, in Khartoum, Sudan.

The Sudanese government actually caught, tried and sentenced to death five people for the murder, including Mohamed and Hamad, but they escaped from a Sudanese jail one year after their conviction. Mohamed and Hamad remain at large. For that, they each have a $5 million bounty on their heads.

It’s the same amount of money as for Joseph Kony, who terrorised northern Uganda for two decades, and Sylvestre Mudacumura, the leader of the FDLR, which is considered the epicentre of the various rebel groups that proliferate in eastern DR Congo and has committed repeated massacres against civilians in Congo.

It’s also the same amount as for several key figures behind the 1994 Rwandan genocide, including Augustin Bizimana, who was Rwanda’s Minister for Defence at the time, and has been indicted for training and distributing weapons to militiamen, as well as preparing lists of people to be exterminated.

Similarly, Fulgence Kayishema, who was police inspector of Kibuye prefecture and indicted as the principal orchestrator of the murder of 1,500 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who sought refuge in a church, as well as Felicien Kabuga, who is alleged be the main financier and backer of the political and militia groups that committed the Rwandan genocide both have $5 million bounties.

Bounty wrinkles

Although the bounty system has been a strong motivator in bringing “actionable intelligence” against wanted criminals, it has also led to the detention of innocent civilians, says Amnesty International. 

In 2007, it was reported that more than 85% of detainees at Guantanamo Bay were arrested, not on the Afghanistan battlefield by US forces, but by bounty hunters, at a time when rewards of up to $5,000 were paid for every ‘terrorist’ turned over to the United States.

Turning over individuals to US troops was a “lucrative business venture” for bounty hunters, the Pakistani and Afghan governments, and civilian reward seekers who could convince the US that the person they had captured or were making accusations against, was connected to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or another terrorist group.

The profitability of the practice was acknowledged by former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf.

“We have captured 689 [enemy combatants] and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totaling millions of dollars,” Musharraf wrote in his memoir In the Line of Fire.


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