- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

The United States is starting a more aggressive broadcast advertising campaign today to tell Afghans and Pakistanis that they can get rich by providing information that leads to the death or capture of Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

Produced by the State Department, the radio and television ads feature the 14 most wanted terrorists in the region, led by bin Laden, deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and ousted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The multilingual, mass-media campaign is being funded by the Counter-Terrorist and Narco-Terrorist Rewards Program Act co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, and enacted in December. Mr. Kirk and other lawmakers did not think the State Department was doing enough to tell the average citizen about the millions of dollars in rewards that awaited those who provided critical information. A Kirk spokesman said the ads are beginning today.

At the time of Mr. Kirk’s visit to the region last year, he said, the U.S. Embassy was refusing to release thousands of matchbooks that featured bin Laden’s picture and told of the cash awards. A Kirk aide said yesterday that the matchbooks now have been distributed.

The Bush administration has become increasingly frustrated by its failure to capture bin Laden, said Pentagon officials. The al Qaeda leader, after a hiatus from the world stage, has resumed putting out video and audio messages that attack the United States and urge more terrorist attacks.

Bin Laden escaped Afghanistan as Mullah Omar’s hard-line Taliban government fell in December 2001. U.S. intelligence thinks he moves around neighboring Pakistan’s vast tribal areas, where allies are willing to hide him.

The new law authorized President Bush to double the reward for information about bin Laden from $25 million to $50 million.

Mr. Kirk, who returned to the region in January on a fact-finding mission, said yesterday that although the illiteracy rate is high in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal areas, the inhabitants are avid radio listeners.

“The flexibility in my legislation made it possible to broadcast radio and television ads in local languages, explaining the rewards program and how someone can safely provide key information and perhaps the tip that leads to bin Laden’s capture,” the congressman said.

Mr. Kirk told The Washington Times in December that the United States has been so successful in cutting off traditional funding sources that bin Laden has turned to Afghanistan’s poppy crop for the money he needs to sustain a life on the run.

“We now know al Qaeda’s dominant source of funding is the illegal sale of narcotics,” said Mr. Kirk, estimating the annual take from heroin sales at $28 million. “He is a foreigner in a strange land. He must have money to buy off the local warlords. Operating a clandestine, heavily armed organization takes money, and running narcotics is the natural way.”

The TV ads show the carnage from terror attacks and then the faces, one by one, of the 14 wanted men. They include three poison and explosives specialists who trained terrorists in Afghanistan: Syrian Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, and Egyptians Midhat Mursi al Sayid Umar and Ali Sayyid Mustafa al Bakri.

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