(Adds background on attacks of Saudi oil stations, tankers, Iran rejects allegation of involvement, paragraphs 3-6)
WASHINGTON, May 14 (Reuters) - U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have attacked four tankers off the United Arab Emirates rather than Iranian forces themselves, a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. assessments said on Tuesday.
The official said possible perpetrators might include Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iran-backed Shi’ite militias based in Iraq but said Washington did not have hard evidence on who sabotaged the four vessels, including two Saudi tankers on Sunday near Fujairah port, which lies just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
Saudi Arabia said armed drones hit two oil pumping stations in the kingdom on Tuesday in what it called a “cowardly” act of terrorism.
A fifth of global oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz from Middle East crude producers to major markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond. The narrow waterway separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula.
On Monday, a U.S. official familiar with U.S. intelligence had said Iran was a leading candidate for having carried out attacks on the four tankers but that the United States did not have conclusive proof Tehran was behind them.
Iran has rejected the allegation and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that “extremist individuals” in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies, amid a war of words with Washington over sanctions. (Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool)