WASHINGTON – Senior members of U.S. 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 Saturday.
Adding Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar to a U.S. list for targeted killing would entail a significant U.S. military expansion into northwestern Africa, the newspaper said, citing unnamed officials in Washington. It would mean extending drone strikes and other lethal counterterrorism operations to the region, the paper added.
Thirty-seven foreign hostages, including three Americans and 10 Japanese, were killed when gunmen stormed the Ain Amenas gas plant last month. Algerian forces launched an assault in response, killing 29 of the insurgents.
The push to target Belmoktar is being led by U.S. military and intelligence officials, the WSJ reported. Some are pressing for a more direct involvement in the hunt for Belmoktar, whether with drones, other aircraft or U.S. forces, it added. Such an effort could rely on the U.S. military’s special operations units, with CIA help.
Last month, a U.S. official said 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 Faso, the official said.
The U.S. government has maintained secret “capture or kill lists” since after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the WSJ pointed out.
Separate lists are maintained by the Pentagon and the CIA, and contain the names of extremist leaders, including Ayman al-Zawhiri, Yemen-based al-Qaida bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri and, before his death, Osama bin Laden, the paper said.