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Algeria mulls international force for hostage standoff; contacts potential negotiators

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    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. As Algerian army helicopters clattered overhead deep in the Sahara desert, Islamist militants hunkered down for the night in the natural gas complex they had assaulted Wednesday morning, killing two people and taking dozens of foreigners hostage in what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/Kjetil Alsvik, Statoil via NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT (The Associated Press)

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    Statoil Chief Executive Helge Lund answers questions about the situation in the gas field, jointly operated by BP, the Norwegian energy company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrachfield along with Japanese company JGC Corp., in Ain Amenas in Algeria during a press briefing in Stavanger, Norway, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. In a desert standoff deep in the Sahara, the Algerian army ringed the natural gas complex where Islamist militants hunkered down with dozens of hostages Wednesday night after a rare attack that appeared to be the first violent shock wave from the French intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/NTB Scanpix, Kent Skibstad) NORWAY OUT (The Associated Press)

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    ALGERIA 2 011613: ADDS oil field satellite image; map locates Ain Amenas, Algeria where American hostages were taken (The Associated Press)

An Algerian security official says the government is in talks with the United States and France over whether an international force can help in a standoff with Islamist militants who have taken dozens of foreigners hostage in a natural gas complex deep in the Sahara.

A militant group that claimed responsibility said 41 foreigners — including seven Americans — were captive in the complex, which is now surrounded by Algerian soldiers and helicopters.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the attack, said Algerian officials also contacted tribal elders among Algerian Tuaregs, who are believed to have close ties with Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida. The official said the government hoped the Tuaregs might help negotiate an end to the standoff.