The United States has more than doubled their offer for information that leads to the location, capture or conviction of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to $25 million.
Previously, information on Baghdadi was worth a $10 million award. The increase puts him close to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri.
“Protecting the homeland and the American people is our top counter terrorism priority, and just as we have intensified our efforts against ISIL, we are increasing the means available to us to gain information on their leadership and bring them to justice,” the State Department announced via a press release announcing the new reward, using an alternate acronym for the group.
Though there have been various rumors about his location, Baghdadi’s whereabouts are unknown.
He broke a nearly yearlong silence in November with an audio message to his followers that was released as Iraqi forces entered the ISIS stronghold of Mosul for the first time in two years.
U.S. forces have been targeting his deputies, with the Pentagon touting Tuesday that coalition airstrikes have killed five ISIS leaders since just mid-November.
“#ISIL leaders being killed one-by-one. Their so-called “caliph” not far behind. New $25M reward for #Baghdadi,” Tweeted – Brett H. McGurk, who is an American lawyer and diplomat and was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015 as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.
In a press briefing Tuesday, McGurk said Baghdadi’s face hasn’t been seen in more than a year and that the hiding has not sat well with his followers.
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) December 16, 2016
“I also think it is significant that he tried to be a kind of new type of terrorist leader — giving public speeches, going to the Grand Mosque and giving this sermon in the summer of 2014 — and he is now in deep, deep hiding,” McGurk said.
“And we have not heard from him until he issued this audiotape a couple months ago, and it was a very defensive message. It basically said, for all of the fighters in Mosul, stay and fight to the death. But all the indications we’re getting is that many did not take that message well, because where is Baghdadi? He is somewhere in hiding,” added Brett.
Al-Baghdadi is designated by the Department of State as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) and the US say he is responsible for the “deaths of thousands of civilians” across the world and has “taken credit for numerous terrorist attacks”.