WASHINGTON - The United States placed seven top leaders of the Somalia-based Shebab militants on its wanted list for the first time Thursday, offering up to $33 million for tip-offs to aid the hunt for the men.
The highest price was put up for the founder of the hardline Islamist Al-Qaeda linked group, Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, with the US State Department offering a $7 million bounty for information on where he is hiding.
A further $5 million was offered for other Shebab members -- Ibrahim Haji Jama, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud and Mukhtar Robow.
And then up to $3 million was offered for other Shebab leaders Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi and Abdullahi Yare.
"Since 2006, Shebab has claimed responsibility for several bombings-including suicide attacks in central and northern Somalia and in the capital of Mogadishu," the State Department said in a statement.
"The group is responsible for the killing of thousands of Somali civilians, Somali peace activists, international aid workers, journalists and African Union peacekeepers."
It added the militants had also attacked neighboring Uganda and threatened attacks on US, Kenyan and Burundian interests.
The Shebab still control large parts of southern Somalia, but AU troops, government forces and Ethiopian soldiers have clawed several key bases back from the insurgents in recent months.
Late last month, the insurgents launched an ambush on Somalia's President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who escaped unhurt.
The announcement comes as Somalia's disparate leaders struggle to form a government to replace the weak transitional body in Mogadishu, which is preparing to hand over power by an August 20 deadline.
Since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia has been variously governed by ruthless warlords and militia groups, each controlling their own limited fiefdoms.