A senior U.S. defense official has confirmed coalition forces attacked a convoy fleeing Iraq, amid news reports that Saddam Hussein or other top leaders in his former regime may have been in the vehicles.

A senior source here at the Pentagon, who asked not to be identified, read a carefully worded statement confirming the attack on the convoy.

The official says the attack occurred Wednesday or Thursday of last week, as the convoy was in Western Iraq near the Syrian border.

The source says U.S. officials do not know who was in the convoy.

The official says the identities of the individuals who may have been killed in the strike have not been confirmed.

The Pentagon official said the convoy was fired on as part of "ongoing operations to seek out former regime members and leadership targets."

As the source put it: "site exploitation continues, and routine DNA testing will be done, if appropriate, based on intelligence" gathered at the scene.

The defense official says five Syrian nationals were injured during the attack, and three were treated for their injuries.

The source says more than 20 individuals were apprehended at the scene, but were soon released, after soldiers determined they were not a threat.

The Observer, a British newspaper, first disclosed the attack and said it was an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein and his sons.

The attack on the convoy indicates U.S. forces have stepped up the manhunt, after receiving information from a top confidant of Saddam Hussein who was captured last week.

A close aide to the Iraqi leader, Abid Hamid Mahmud, has reportedly told his American interrogators that Saddam Hussein and his sons survived the war. Pentagon officials do not know whether the prisoner is telling the truth.

This is not the first time reports have indicated that the former Iraqi leader may have been killed in a targeted strike.

On March 20 and April 7 coalition forces attacked locations where Saddam Hussein and members of his family were believed to be hiding.

American intelligence analysts reportedly now believe Saddam Hussein and his sons probably survived those attacks.