Washington The U.S. government renewed a request for DNA material from relatives of Osama bin Laden after a CIA missile struck a group of unidentified men in Afghanistan this month, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
In disclosing the request, the government acknowledged for the first time that it does not have a sample of DNA from a bin Laden relative. Such a sample would be crucial to the United States' ability to determine whether the al-Qaida leader was killed by that CIA strike or any other bombing raid in Afghanistan.
News of the request renewed speculation that bin Laden may have been among three people killed by a Hellfire missile fired Feb. 4 from an unmanned Predator spy plane operated by the CIA.
Officials said the missile hit a "tall figure" around whom other men appeared to be gathering in the rugged Zhawar Kili area of eastern Afghanistan.
The agency said the group had been under surveillance and was moving in an area known to be an al-Qaida hide-out, but officials later expressed doubt that bin Laden had been hit. Subsequent reports from the region even suggested that those hit might have been scrap collectors rather than al-Qaida operatives.
It took days for U.S. soldiers to reach the scene, and Pentagon officials have said there were no identifiable remains there. But human tissue samples were taken from the area, and a U.S. official said Wednesday that the samples would be compared to any DNA material supplied by bin Laden's relatives.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cautioned that there is no new intelligence to suggest that bin Laden was killed.
He said there is no new information to contradict statements by Pentagon officials and members of Congress that bin Laden is believed to have survived the U.S. aerial campaign and to still be hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"There's been interest in getting (DNA material) for quite some time," the official said. The scant remains left behind in Zhawar Kili, he said, merely "renewed interest in getting this kind of material."
Bin Laden has at least 20 children and dozens of siblings Â some of whom have lived in the United States and have publicly repudiated the al-Qaida leader.