- By John Hudson
John Hudson is a staff writer for Foreign Policy where he chases down stories from Foggy Bottom to the White House, the Pentagon to Embassy Row. Between 2009 and 2012, John covered politics and global affairs for The Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August War between Russia and Georgia for Salon.com and other news outlets. Over the years, he's dug up resignation-causing FEC documents; unmasked world-famous Internet trolls; exposed bizarre Photoshopping by government media; and revealed a secret Iranian military facility. John's weakness is cold craft beer from his birthplace of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He's appeared on MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, and other broadcast outlets.
On Wednesday, the State Department posted a multimillion-dollar bounty on the heads of two Americans suspected of joining al-Shabab, an al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. The two men, Alabama native Omar Shafik Hammami and California native Jehad Serwan Mostafa, are accused of making “significant contributions to this terrorist organization’s media and military activities” and are “believed to be involved in planning attacks on U.S. persons or property.” The trick now is targeting the communities most likely to come into contact with the two men.
Today, a State Department official with knowledge of the Rewards for Justice program gave Foreign Policy a sneak peek into the global effort to capture Mostafa and Hammami. The first step is a full-on media blitz with posters and leaflets detailing the $5 million reward for information “leading to the arrest or conviction” of Hammami or Mostafa. The materials were translated into French, Arabic, and Somali:
According to the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program is just getting off the ground, these materials will be shared with newspapers and TV stations in a big push in the coming weeks. The goal of the U.S. media outreach is to target America’s “large and significant” Somali expatriate communities, the official said.
The next step involves localized targeting of the two men, both of whom are believed to be in Somalia. Hammami left in 2006 for the African country, where he allegedly trained with Islamic militants and served as a rapping, English-speaking propagandist for al-Shabab. Mostafa left in 2005 for Somalia, where he allegedly leads foreign fighters for al-Shabab and serves as a “media expert.”
The official told FP that the State Department is contemplating a “whole bunch of possibilities,” including radio ads, matchbooks, and social media campaigns conducted throughout Somalia and Kenya. “In some countries, people use portable digital devices more than they use PCs,” said the official. “It has to be decided on the ground in the region.” Below is the State Department’s matchbox bounty materials, including poster translations in French, Arabic, and Somali: