US puts million dollar bounty on heads of African terror groups

The State Department has put a $5 million bounty on the commander of an al Qaeda affiliated terror group responsible for a deadly assault on a BP oil facility in Algeria in January. 

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Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the head of the so-called "Signers in Blood" terror group in central Africa coordinated the raid on the BP facility, taking a number of American and other foreign nationals hostage in the process. 

The subsequent rescue attempt by Algerian special forces ended with the deaths of a number of hostages, including three Americans. 

Washington is also offering $7 million for information on the location of Abubakar Shekau, head of the Nigerian-based Boko Haram terror group. 

Boko Haram and the Somali-based al Shabab have begun to ally themselves with al Qaeda's West African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM). 

Those affiliations have resulted in the al Qaeda cell evolving into one of the organization's most dangerous factions, second only to al Qaeda's Yemeni cell known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. 

Belmokhtar and Shekau were added to the State Department's "Rewards for Justice" program on Thursday. 

The program offers cash rewards for information leading to the capture of top terrorism suspects around the world. 

At the top of the list is al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri, with State Department leaders offering $25 million for his location. 

Al-Zawahri assumed command of al Qaeda central after the group's leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed by U.S. special forces in May 2011. 

Other individuals on the list include Taliban leader Mullah Omar; Sirajuddun Haqqani, head of the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network; and Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. 

The addition of the African-based terror groups to the State Department list reflects the difficulties U.S. intelligence has had in pinning down those organizations. 

The intelligence community lacks the necessary means and manpower to dismantle al Qaeda's rapidly growing presence in Africa on their own, becoming increasingly dependent on local forces to take that fight to the group's terror cells on the continent.

The relatively small network of intelligence assets Washington currently has in place in Africa pales in comparison to the number of similar American assets in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the Mideast. 

But the resulting blow back from the Mideast counterterror campaign has manifested itself with the rise of al Qaeda factions gaining control of wide swaths of territory in North and Western Africa.