WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives, amid an intensifying hunt for leaders of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, voted unanimously Thursday to double the reward for Usama bin Laden's (search) capture to $50 million.
The move came in connection with a broader bill that expanded the State Department's anti-terrorist rewards program to provide cash and other benefits to those helping authorities track down drug traffickers who support terrorist activities.
The bill, which was passed 414-0, now goes to the Senate. Rep. Kathryn Harris (search), R-Fla., said it recognizes the growing link between the illicit drug trade and the financing and support of terrorist activities.
Three senior officials of the government of Pakistan said Thursday they believe their troops have surrounded Ayman al-Zawahri (search), Al Qaeda's No. 2 figure, in an operation near the Afghan border.
Outside of Usama, the legislation amends a 1956 law to raise the maximum amount of terrorist and narco-terrorist rewards from $5 million to $25 million.
Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said it also takes into account that many in countries such as Afghanistan who might have information about wanted terrorists or traffickers are illiterate and can't read reward posters. In addition, he said, many live in rural areas where material rewards can be of greater use than cash.
The legislation gives the State Department flexibility to give out vehicles, appliances, and other goods and to explore ways to best publicize the rewards program.
Rep. Tom Lantos of California, top Democrat on the International Relations Committee, said that up to now there has been a false distinction between the anti-narcotics efforts of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which has its own rewards program, and the campaign against terrorism. "For the struggle against terrorism to succeed our government must be unified, not divided," he said.
Kirk said the State Department rewards program has been used in the Balkans and in securing the capture of Aimal Khan Kasi, the Pakistani executed two years ago for the murder of two CIA employees.
The biggest reward ever was given to the informant who pointed American forces toward the hideout of Saddam Hussein's two sons, who were killed in a U.S. attack. The reward offered was $15 million for each son and the tipster received the bulk of the $30 million.
A $25 million reward was also posted for help in capturing Saddam, but that money is not likely to be given out because he was located by the U.S. military.