US intelligence agents have "hard evidence" that Osama Bin Laden was behind the blast that killed 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole in Yemen, USA Today reported Friday.
The evidence shows that the Saudi-born millionaire financed the attack and sent one of his aides to supervise it, the daily said, citing anonymous sources.
The blast occurred October 12 when a small boat pulled alongside the US destroyer at the Yemeni port of Aden and detonated.
Bin Laden was in Jalalabad, Afghanistan Thursday morning, the report said.
US officials downplayed the report, and the FBI refused to confirm it.
"This story is overwritten. They are strong suspicions that people with links to Bin Laden are involved in this but the notion of hard evidence is at this point an overstatement," said an official who requesting anonymity.
"We're not confirming. It's too early at this stage," said Steven Berry of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
If investigators conclude that Bin Laden and his organization are behind the blast, Washington may take retaliatory action, as it did in 1998, following attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya which claimed 224 lives.
The United States subsequently bombed terrorist bases in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan.
But even when it identifies the perpetrator the United States might hesitate to strike back, for fear of influencing the November 7 presidential election or exacerbating recent violence in the Middle East, USA Today noted -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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