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Train crash knocks out fibre cables, delays 9/11 hearing

Maryland derailment sliced communication lines to US naval base in Cuba

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A 9/11 pretrial hearing at Guantanamo Bay was postponed on Wednesday after a coal-train crash that killed two women in Baltimore, Maryland, disrupted internet connections to the 45-square-mile US naval base in Cuba. The whole thing was later altogether abandoned due to a tropical storm.

Fibre optic lines were damaged in the derailment, thereby delaying the hearing into the alleged mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks that took place in New York and Washington DC because the wire-and-satellite network providing comms to the base were affected.

Suspect Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged accomplices in the 9/11 attacks were set to face questioning at Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday, but their lawyers and prosecutors were hampered by the network disruption, which prevented them from accessing online legal files and emails relating to the case.

On Thursday the hearing was completely abandoned after tropical storm Isaac was said to be headed for Cuba, the US Department of Defense confirmed in a statement that also detailed the initial delay brought on by the network outage:

The hearings - in the case of the United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi - were originally scheduled to begin yesterday. But in the early morning hours of August 21, a coal-train derailment in suburban Baltimore killed two young women and damaged fiber-optic lines that carry internet traffic to and from Guantanamo Bay.

The damage caused loss of internet connectivity for the base and for the Office of Military Commissions, and it hindered the ability of the defense team, according to an emergency motion filed by the team.

A new date has not yet been set for the hearings. Those involved in the case could eventually benefit from a 500-mile fibre link currently being considered by the US government at the cost of $40m to connect Guantanamo Bay with a broadband service from the US mainland. At present, it's only a proposal as part of the US's 2013 budget. The move is meant to improve communications with what remains an active US Naval base despite President Barack Obama's pre-election pledge to shut the whole operation down. ®

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