The Bush administration has slashed its reward for the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq from $5 million to $100,000 because it feels he's lost effectiveness and is no longer worth such a steep price, officials said Tuesday.
Over the course of the last year, the government first reduced the bounty for Abu Ayyub al-Masri from $5 million to $1 million and then removed him entirely from the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program, which pays tipsters for information leading to the death or arrest and conviction of wanted terrorists, the officials said.
Information on al-Masri is now worth only up to $100,000 under a separate and less well-known rewards program run by the Defense Department, which asked that he be taken off the State Department list, they said.
Capt. Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said the military considers intelligence and other factors on a recurring basis to re-evaluate the reward levels for those on wanted lists, at times adjusting up or down the dollar values it has placed on individuals.
The current assessment on al-Masri is that he is not as valuable as he used to be, he said.
"The value of this guy is not what it was, say, at this time last year," Graybeal said in a telephone interview from the command's headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
"Our assessment has led us to believe he's not as effective a leader on the battlefield ... and because of that he's just not as valuable to us," Graybeal said.
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said the decision to remove al-Masri from the list was a move that some officials thought would help their efforts to capture him.
"You have people making judgments that doing that will actually be more effective in helping in dealing with or getting our hands on this individual," he told reporters. "People on the ground think that these actions will actually help them in what they're doing to address the security threat."
Officials said that besides denigrating al-Masri's leadership skills, the reduction could lower his stature among potential informants who might otherwise be frightened to turn in a senior operative.
Iraqi officials believed for a while last week that they had captured al-Masri in the northern city of Mosul. But U.S. officials later said the captive was someone with a similar name.
Mosul is said by commanders to be the last important urban staging ground for Al Qaeda in Iraq, which lost its strongholds in Baghdad and other areas during last year's U.S. troop buildup and the so-called "awakening" movement in which some Iraqis allied with U.S. forces and turned away from Al Qaeda tactics.
Al-Masri was placed on the Rewards for Justice wanted list with an up-to $5 million bounty in 2006 after he was identified as the successor to Abu Musab Zarqawi as leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Between January and August 2007, the State Department, without any announcement, lowered the amount to $1 million. He was removed from the list entirely in February.
Rewards for Justice, created in 1984, has paid about $77 million in rewards to more than 50 informants.