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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

FBI flies in to Cuba to probe sonic weapon claims

More than 20 people at the America embassy in Havana have complained of hearing loss and concussion

The US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, which is alleged to have been attacked by sonic warfare. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
The US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, which is alleged to have been attacked by sonic warfare. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Cuban relations with America, already under threat after the election of Donald Trump, are coming under fresh pressure as the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has sent agents to the Caribbean island to discover whether the Havana regime is practising a curious form of asymmetric warfare against their embassy there.

The FBI is trying to find out whether Cubans are using a sonic weapon that has potentially caused brain damage, hearing loss and nausea among US diplomats stationed in the socialist country’s capital.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson says the Trump administration is considering closing down the US embassy in Havana following unexplained incidents that have affected the health of American diplomats.

Tillerson's comments are the strongest indication to date that the United States might mount a major diplomatic response, potentially jeopardising the historic restart of relations between the US and Cuba. The former foes reopened embassies in Washington and Havana in 2015 after a half-century of estrangement.

Tillerson says, “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered.”

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Read more:

‘Acoustic attack’ targeted at least 16 US embassy staff in Cuba

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Some of the 21 medically confirmed US individuals affected — diplomats and their families — have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall.

Canadian diplomats in Havana have also complained about suffering similar symptoms.

Raul Castro, the Cuban president, has denied any responsibility and claims to be equally perplexed and concerned. “Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families, without exception,” a statement from the Cuban government said.

Although diplomatic relations have gradually improved in recent years after a 50-year Cuban embargo was lifted by President Obama, there was a rare joint “law-enforcement dialogue” on Friday in Washington.

Victims said they felt vibrations or heard ringing noises near their beds at home and, reportedly, at a hotel. Others who experienced symptoms cannot remember hearing or feeling anything out of the ordinary. Many victims have shown improvement since leaving the island.

Investigators are at a loss to explain why Canadian officials were also harmed. Canada has maintained warm ties with Cuba for decades. The US has not stopped sending new diplomats to Cuba even as the victim list grows.

The US hasn't identified either a culprit or a device. Investigators have explored the possibility of sonic waves, an electromagnetic weapon, or an advanced spying operation gone awry, officials told the Associated Press. The US hasn’t ruled out that a third country or a rogue faction of Cuba’s security services might be involved.