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.
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Hundreds of Algerians worked at the gas plant, but the Algerian media says most have been released. The Norwegian energy company Statoil says three of its Algerian employees are hostages. <em>Caption: This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. (AP Photo/SITE Intel Group) </em>
Nine Norwegian employees of Statoil are hostages, the company says. <em>Caption: Norwegian Prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, right, and Foreign Minister, Espen Barth Eide, attend a press conference in Oslo regarding the attack on Statoil's plant in Algeria, where 13 Norwegians are among 17 workers who were taken as hostages, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/NTB Scanpix, Berit Roald) </em>
Seven Americans were hostages, the militants said, but they claimed only two survived the Algerian strafing Thursday. The U.S. has confirmed that some of its citizens are hostages but gave no numbers. <em>Caption: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pauses during a news conference in Rome, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. Panetta confirmed on Wednesday that American citizens are among the hostages taken by an Al Qaeda-linked group that seized a gas field in Algeria, calling the action a "terrorist attack," (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)</em>
Several" British nationals are among the hostages, the U.K. government says. <em>Caption: Statoil spokesman Ole Anders Skauby, centre right, talks to TV reporters outside Scandic Bergen Airport hotel where a drop-in center is established for relatives of hostages involved in the situation in Algeria. (AP Photo / Hakon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix) </em>
Two Malaysians being held, the government says. <em>Caption: This April 19, 2005 photo released by Statoil via NTB scanpix, shows the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Kjetil Alsvik, Statoil via NTB scanpix) </em>
A 36-year-old Irish man was among the hostages but is now safe and free, according to Ireland's government. <em>Caption: This April 19, 2005 photo released by Statoil via NTB scanpix, shows the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Kjetil Alsvik, Statoil via NTB scanpix) </em>
President Francois Hollande says there are French hostages but gave no exact number. <em>Caption: In this undated image released Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013, by BP petroleum company, showing the Amenas natural gas field in the eastern central region of Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/BP)</em>
Romania's Foreign Ministry says Romanians are among hostages. <em>Caption: In this undated image released Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013, by BP petroleum company, showing the Amenas natural gas field in the eastern central region of Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/BP)</em>
At least three of the hostages are Japanese, according to the Japanese media. <em>Caption: Employees arrive for work at the headquarters of JGC Corporation, or Nikki in Yokohama, near Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, a day after an attack at a natural gas complex in Algeria which involves the company's workers. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) </em>