RALEIGH — Are the folks at Red Hat preparing to expand their Linux offensive?

Could be.

Red Hat triggered talk of acquisitions on Monday when it disclosed plans to raise $400 million in debt that would come due in 2024. The company declared in a statement that it also would be expanding its international operations. Another $80 million in debt will be made available to initial purchasers. The company said.

Initial reaction was not positive, however. Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT) stock closed Monday at $19.57 but dropped nearly 5 percent, or 95 cents, in after-hours trading to $18.62. Red Hat stock has surged in recent weeks, up from $13.17 when it disclosed a quarterly profit that beat Street expectations in December.

“Who in their right mind would buy now,” asked one individual in a message board about Red Hat.

Timothy Buckley, Red Hat’s chief operating officer, cashed in on the surge in Red Hat stock on Dec. 23 to the tune of $34 million. Buckley exercised options on 1.86 million shares and sold them for $34,376,000.

In its August quarterly statement Red Hat indicated long-term debt of only $849,000.

In a statement issued after the markets closed Monday, Red Hat said that it intended “to use the net proceeds from this offering for general corporate purposes, including possible acquisitions of complementary businesses and technologies and the expansion of its international operations.”

Red Hat acquired Sistina Software, a storage infrastructure firm, in December for $31 million in stock.

Third quarter net revenue hit $4.1 million, or 2 cents a share. And revenue topped $31 million in the third quarter, a 36 percent increase over 2002.

The surge in Red Hat sales and stock price, along with a series of “Buy” ratings from market analysts, has come despite lingering questions raised over allegations by SCO Group regarding alleged copyright infringement by IBM in Unix code and development of Linux.

Red Hat: www.redhat.com