A crack British team of 'specialists' has arrived in Algeria to hunt down the terror chief behind the hostage carnage and Prime Minister David Cameron has said that SAS units are on standby.
The Sun reported a squad of crack SAS soldiers, military intelligence gathering experts and specialist cops had been sent to Algeria to pave the way for a far larger special forces "kill team", if they get the green signal for a full-fledged ground operations.
Cameron told parliament that SAS was on standby to rescue survivors, but the Algerian government had so far rejected five offers for launching an all out operation to nail the desert terror mastermind.
Belmokhtar, according to intelligence reports has a 32 strong heavily armed group with him.
The Prime Minister said Britain would help lead a robust security response to the crisis and " will do everything we can to hunt down the people responsible."
The clamour for the head of Belmokhtar rose as reports said that 10 British hostages were still missing at the remote gas complex in the Sahara.
The British team would be based in its embassy complex in Algeirs. Other hostage nations including Norway, whose citizens are also in danger have also pledged to send their own special forces to the besieged gas plant, with or without Algerian permission, the paper said.
Quoting British intelligence reports, The Sun said that it was feared that Belmokhtar's men were holding British and American captives separately from other hostages apparently to seek to swap them in exchange for Egyptian blind cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui, both being held in jail in US on terrorism charges.
UK and US may also raise the bounty on Belmokhtar's head from the current USS 100,000 to USS One million. The Desert al-Qaeda chief has been dubbed as the Marlboro Man, because he raises terror funds by smuggling cigarettes.
The Algerian government has said that 98 out of 132 foreign hostages held were safe, leaving 34 unaccounted for. But the tabloid said the number of missing could be as high as 60.
The British secret intelligence service are also examining the possibilities that one of the terrorists may be British.
Sun said that the British and American NSA listening stations will use satellite and electronic surveillance and voice match software to locate him and this could pave the way for a drone strike on his hideout.
London: Britain may launch an Osama Bin Laden like 'kill or snatch' operation in the Sahara desert to nail the one-eyed al-Qaeda kingpin Mokhtar Belmokhtar, believed to be responsible for a hostage standoff in Algeria.
First Published: Saturday, January 19, 2013, 14:24