The COVID-19 pandemic was likely caused by a leak from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray said.
"The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan," he said in an interview with Fox News. The agency director did not give more details on the FBI's assessment, saying it was classified.
The coronavirus has killed millions across the world since it was first detected in Wuhan in November 2019.
Wray's comments came days after the US-based Wall Street Journal reported that the US Energy Department assessed with low confidence that the pandemic originated from an unintended lab leak in China.
Other agencies within the American intelligence community believe the virus emerged naturally, and not from a lab, in line with academic studies.
On Monday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that the US government had not reached a definitive conclusion and consensus on the pandemic's origins.
China under the spotlight
When China's Foreign Ministry was asked to comment on the Wall Street Journal report, it referred to a report from the World Health Organization that pointed toward a natural origin for the pandemic, rather than a lab leak.
Other Chinese officials have denied claims about a lab incident, calling them part of a smear campaign against Beijing.
Meanwhile, Wray, in his interview, also accused the Chinese government of attempting to stall the US investigation into the cause of the pandemic.
"The Chinese government ... has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here, the work that we're doing, the work that our US government and close foreign partners are doing," he said. "And that's unfortunate for everybody."
The origin of the COVID virus is of critical importance to the scientific community and its efforts to prevent another pandemic.
US-China relations have been under strain lately in light of the geopolitical tension over Taiwan, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and an alleged Chinese spy balloon detected in US skies.
mk/nm (AFP, Reuters)