HUFFINGTON POST

Mokhtar Belmokthar Could Be Added To Secret 'Kill' List, Move Driven By Senior Obama Officials

This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant milit
This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. Algerian officials scrambled Thursday Jan. 17, 2013 for a way to end an armed standoff deep in the Sahara desert with Islamic militants who have taken dozens of foreigners hostage, turning to tribal Algerian Tuareg leaders for talks and contemplating an international force. The group claiming responsibility — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — says it has captured 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in the surprise attack Wednesday on the Ain Amenas gas plant. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara. (AP Photo/SITE Intel Group) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS PICTURE. MANDATORY CREDIT: SITE Intel Group

Senior members of President Barack Obama's administration want to put the mastermind of last month's attack on an Algerian natural-gas facility on a secret "kill" list, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Adding Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar to a US list for targeted killing would entail a significant US military expansion into northwestern Africa, the newspaper said, citing unnamed US officials.

It would mean extending drone strikes and other lethal counterterrorism operations to the region, the paper added.

Thirty-seven foreign hostages, including three Americans, were killed when gunmen last month stormed the In Amenas gas plant and the Algerian army launched a military assault in response. One Algerian and 29 of the insurgents were also killed.

The push to target Belmokhtar is being led by US military and intelligence officials, the Journal reported.

And some were pressing for a more direct involvement in the hunt for Belmokhtar, whether with drones, other aircraft or American forces, the paper added.

Such an effort could rely on the military's special-operations units, with help from the Central Intelligence Agency, the report said.

Last month, a US official told AFP that Washington planned to set up a base for drones in northwest Africa to improve surveillance of Islamist groups in the region. The base would probably be in either Niger or Burkina Fasi, the official said.

The US government has maintained secret "capture-or-kill lists" since after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, The Journal pointed out.

Separate lists are maintained by the Pentagon and by the Central Intelligence Agency, and contain the names of terrorist leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Yemen-based Al-Qaeda bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri and, before his death, Osama bin Laden, the paper noted.

Copyright (2013) AFP. All rights reserved.

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Algerian Hostage Crisis (AP Captions)