The United States is offering a new set of rewards for information on the whereabouts of leaders of the Somali militant group al-Shabab.
The State Department announced the rewards Thursday through its Rewards for Justice program, marking the first time a specific premium has been placed on the heads of top members of al-Shabab, which the United States considers a terrorist group.
The U.S. is offering up to $7 million for al-Shabab's operational leader Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed. Separate rewards of up to $5 million each were offered for four of his top associates -- Ibrahim Haji Jama, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud, and Mukhtar Robow.
Rewards of up to $3 million were also offered for two other top members of the group, Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi and Abdullahi Yare.
Roland Marchal, a leading al-Shabab expert, said that the bounty may be aimed at weakening the organization and buying intelligence. But he adds that many of those on the list are not influential in the group's current operations.
"They are well known outside the organization," he said. "But I doubt, for the little I know, they are very influential inside."
The State Department said the group is responsible for the killing of thousands of Somali civilians, Somali peace activists, international aid workers, journalists and African Union peacekeepers.
It called al-Shabab's activities a threat to the stability of East Africa and to the national security interests of the United States.
The U.S. placed al-Shabab on its list of terrorist organizations in 2008. The militant group has been linked to terrorist attacks in Somalia and Uganda.
Al-Shabab once controlled much of Somalia and nearly all of the capital, Mogadishu, but lost most of its territory during an 18-month offensive involving African Union forces, the Somali government, Ethiopia and Kenya.