By Jane Sutton
GUANTANAMO BAY US NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A train wreck in the United States disrupted Internet connections to the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval base on Tuesday and caused a one-day delay in pretrial hearings for five prisoners accused of launching the September 11 attacks.
Hearings had been scheduled to begin on Wednesday for the alleged mastermind of the hijacked plane attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four others facing death penalty charges of mass murder, terrorism and conspiring with al Qaeda.
The train derailment in the Baltimore, Maryland, area that killed two young women knocked out fiber optic lines that are part of the wire-and-satellite network providing communications to the remote U.S. Naval base in eastern Cuba, said Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman for the Guantanamo detention operation.
That left defense lawyers and prosecutors at the base temporarily unable to access email and electronic legal files. Defense lawyers said the network breakdown had drastically interrupted preparations for the hearings, and filed an emergency request for a delay.
The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, postponed the start of the hearings until Thursday. The session was scheduled to last six days to address secrecy rules governing the trials, among other issues.
The United States maintains an economic embargo on Cuba that is intended to put pressure on the island's communist government and there are no communications links between the U.S. base and the rest of Cuba.
Satellites relay phone and Internet signals to and from the base, linking it with communications networks in Maryland and Maine. The Maryland link was expected to be fully restored by Tuesday evening, Durand said.
The hearings could face additional disruption from Tropical Storm Isaac, which formed in the Atlantic Ocean east of the Lesser Antilles. It was forecast to strengthen as it moved into the Caribbean Sea by Thursday, and could threaten Guantanamo as a hurricane on Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
(Edited by Doina Chiacu)