Regional Governor in Somalia Puts Bounty on al-Shabab Chiefs

 A governor in central Somalia has announced rewards of up to $25,000 for anyone who kills an Islamist militant with the al-Shabab terrorist group.

The governor of Hiiraan region also directed military and clan militias to kill the wives and mothers of al-Shabab members. Rights groups and security experts expressed alarm at the call for extrajudicial killings.

Hiiraan regional governor Ali Jeyte announced at a news conference Sunday that his administration will reward those who kill al-Shabab militants in the ongoing war in the central Somalia region. The governor’s remarks came amid intense fighting in the Hiiraan and Galgaduud regions in central Somalia against al-Shabab. Unlike in the past, civilians have joined with the military to wage war against the militant group.  

“Whoever kills an al-Shabab fighter will be given $5,000,” he said. “Those who kill senior al-Shabab commanders will be given $10,000 while anyone who kills top leaders like Ali Dhere (al-Shabab spokesperson) will get a reward of $25,000.” 

Ongoing joint operations between the military and civilians have been hailed as decisive actions against al-Shabab which still controls large swathes of territory in south-central Somalia. The Somali government has said it will deploy all means necessary to finish off the militant group.  

According to Jeyte, that includes going after al-Shabab family members. 

“I want al-Shabaab wives and mother to be killed,” says Jeyte. “Also, I want you to kill your relative who is al-Shabab.” 

The decision to go after relatives of al-Shabab members has human rights activists concerned. 

Abdullahi Hassan, a researcher for Amnesty International, told VOA that targeting al-Shabab families is a violation of international human rights. 

“Under international humanitarian law, parties to a conflict are required to at all times distinguish between combatants and civilians,” said Hassan. “Parties are also required to take all feasible precautions to spare civilian lives and objects. In the case of Somalia, both government and allied forces and others including regional and international actors, and the armed group al-Shabab, are required to respect international law and not to target civilians.”

Abdiaziz Hussein Issack is a security analyst with the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Center, a cultural and research center based in Denmark. Issack echoed similar concerns adding that the move could be counterproductive. 

“Targeting al-Shabab families and children is risky because al-Shabab are not aliens or Satans, they are part of [the] citizenship — though there might be some foreign individuals— but 90% are Somalis,” said Issack. “Therefore, so when their families, including innocent children, [are attacked] it could help al-Shabab get support from [the] clans of these families.” 

Issack said the bounty is a positive step saying countries such as the United States have already placed bounties on several al-Shabab leaders. He adds that the bounty could motivate soldiers and clan militias to increase their efforts in hunting down the terror group’s figureheads. 

“The bounty can be hailed by the international community,” said Issack. “Some al-Shabab figures and other international terror groups have millions of dollars in bounties on their heads. Therefore, [the] international community might encourage the bounties and support the government [to] fulfill its promises.” 

In the past, the Somali government has announced bounties on al-Shabab but mainly focused on information sharing from the public. The federal government also declared in 2018 it would compensate traders whose premises were destroyed during terrorist attacks. There have been no public declarations on whether those promises were kept, it remains unclear if the new directive will be honored. 

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