U.S. mulls $50 million bin Laden bounty, but he’s no where to found

By Noble Johns

- As part of an intensified effort to capture terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, the State Department is considering doubling the bounty on his head to $50 million, State Department officials said.

Legislation passed in November by Congress as part of the appropriations bill allowed the State Department to double the current $25 million reward for information leading to bin Laden's capture, under the Rewards for Justice Program.

The program seeks to prevent acts of terrorism against the United States. It pays rewards for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of terrorists attempting to commit or committing acts against U.S. interests.

Bin Laden is still thought to be hiding somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but intelligence officials in both countries say there has been no sign of him for the past 20 months, according to Time magazine.

In 2003, the Bush administration paid a $30 million reward -- $15 million each for Uday and Qusay Hussein -- to the informant who provided the tip that led U.S. troops to the home in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul where Uday and Qusay were hiding. They died there in a firefight with American forces.

Last July, the State Department raised the bounty for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the accused terrorist mastermind in Iraq, from $10 million to $25 million.

On Monday, the al-Zarqawi group al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb in Baghdad, Iraq, at a checkpoint near the headquarters of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party, according to an Internet statement.

Officials said the State Department is reviewing whether to double the reward for bin Laden to $50 million, with the final decision to be made by incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

This month, the Rewards for Justice Program also launched an advertising campaign in Pakistan to publicize the existing reward for bin Laden.

Print ads in Urdu and Pashto languages have begun to run in Pakistani newspapers featuring photos and reward amounts for bin Laden, Taliban leader Mullah Omar and other Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.

The print ads will be followed by a broadcast ad blitz in cities and border areas where U.S. officials believe bin Laden is hiding.

"The people there are largely illiterate," said Rep. Mark Kirk, who wrote the legislation that would allow the doubling of the reward. "So we're going to back up this campaign with a radio campaign that is the primary way people find out about the world."

Kirk, an Illinois Republican, returned last week from a visit to Pakistan.

Officials said the scripts for the radio ads are being finalized, and that the ads should be running within 10 days to two weeks. A television ad campaign is also in development, the officials said.

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