SAN DIEGO — The State Department has put a multimillion-dollar bounty on the heads of two Americans, one of whom used to live in San Diego, officials announced Wednesday.
Posters and matchbooks in Somali and English emblazoned with the names and pictures of Omar Shafik Hammami and Jehad Serwan Mostafa tout rewards up to $5 million each for information leading to their arrest or conviction. Both men are on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List.
The rewards are being offered through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program.
Mostafa is a U.S. citizen and former resident of San Diego. He left for Somalia in 2005, according to the FBI. Hammami is also a U.S. citizen who lived in Alabama. Both men are members of Al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, and “have made significant contributions to this terrorist organization’s media and military activities,” according to a statement released by the State Department. They are both are believed to be in Somalia and speak English, Arabic and Somali.
A senior FBI official said the United States has information that both men “had a persistent interest in targeting U.S. interests” and are “believed to be involved in planning attacks on U.S. persons or property.” But it is unclear what specific attacks against Americans, even ones that have been thwarted, these men have taken part in. Officials said that information is classified.
Mostafa is believed to be either 27 or 32. He was born in Wisconsin before moving California, where he attended college. He traveled to Somalia in 2005, where officials say he led foreign fighters for Al-Shabaab and served as a media expert and recruiter. He was indicted in California on charges of providing material support to Al-Shabaab.
Hammami, a 29-year-old Alabama native, moved to Somalia in 2006. The State Department claims he joined Al-Shabaab there and received training from Islamic militants, rising through the organization’s ranks to command a contingent of foreign fighters. Officials say he was also a “propagandist” for the group, helping to recruit English-speaking youth through writings, rap songs and video statements.
An Alabama court indicted him in 2009 on charges of providing support to a terrorist group.
Hammami has been engaged in a public rift with Al-Shabaab over the past year. Last March, he first expressed concern about his safety in an extraordinary Web video. He has since criticized the group’s leaders for corruption and living extravagant lifestyles with money fighters collect from Somali residents, and for fighting only in Somalia while ignoring global jihad.
Hammami’s family has said they fear for his life.
But the senior FBI official told CNN that Hammami’s current status with the group is “immaterial” and that the reward is based on the actions he has already taken to threaten U.S. interests.
“We still believe he is an individual of great significance to the activities that are going on in Somalia with Al-Shabaab,” the official said.
Al-Shabaab was labeled a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 2008. The group was responsible for the July 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people, including a U.S. citizen, gathering to watch a World Cup final soccer match. Al-Shabaab is also believed to be responsible for numerous other attacks in Somalia that have killed international aid workers, journalists, civilian leaders and African Union peacekeepers.