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Report: FBI testing remains from USS Cole blast

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The FBI is performing DNA tests on some bodily remains as it tries to confirm the identities of two men believed responsible for the blast that ripped a hole in the destroyer USS Cole last month, killing 17 American sailors, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The newspaper also quoted Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that U.S. retaliation with cruise missiles or other weapons for last month's attack on the Cole remained a possibility.

"That is an option," it quoted Shelton, the nation's top military officer, as telling a small group of reporters. "Whether or not it would be the option selected would be driven by the circumstances."

The FBI is trying to identify the two men who were reportedly aboard a small boat that exploded alongside the Cole as it refueled in the southern Yemeni port of Aden on October 12.

Yemeni authorities were also conducting blood tests on people believed to be related to those involved in the attack, the Post said, quoting unidentified sources.

So far, Yemeni investigators had tentatively identified one of the suspected suicide bombers and had detained scores of people who may have seen, met or helped the bombers, the Post said.

"There are some interesting links between some of the individuals involved in the Cole and East Africa," one U.S. official told the paper, referring to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed more than 220 people.

"A name has come up in Aden of someone involved in Nairobi. We found a number of things on the Cole we are taking a look at right now," the paper quoted the official as saying. The official declined to specify the links.

Defense Secretary William Cohen said last week it had not been determined whether the attackers of the Cole had ties to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, whom the United States blames for allegedly masterminding the 1998 embassy bombings.

The United States responded to the 1998 embassy bombings by firing cruise missiles at suspected guerrilla training camps in Afghanistan, where bin Laden now lives.

The working hypothesis of U.S. investigators was that bin Laden played a central role in both attacks, sources told the Post.

"The Yemenis have a large group in custody, and there are a limited number who are primary suspects ... we have a deep interest in," a Clinton administration official told the Post.

He said that phase of the probe could last for months. "We are going to let the investigation run its course on the law enforcement and intelligence side of the house," he said.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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