US embassy staff in Colombia hit with 'Havana Syndrome’ ahead of Blinken visit
The outbreak at the US embassy in Bogota comes shortly before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit. © Luis Robayo, AFP/ File

At least five US families associated with the embassy in Colombia have come down with symptoms of the mysterious "Havana Syndrome", a potentially brain-damaging illness first detected in American diplomats in Cuba in 2016, just days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to visit.

The Wall Street Journal reported that staff at the American compound in Bogota were first alerted to "an unexplained health incident" in an email in mid-September, which was then followed up by an in-house warning of "additional Anomalous Health Incidents" in early October.

At least five families connected with the embassy, which is one of the largest and most important US diplomatic outposts in the world, have shown symptoms associated with the mysterious affliction, which include headaches, nausea and possible brain damage.

The Colombia cases are only the latest of dozens of instances of Havana Syndrome experienced by US diplomats and intelligence officials since 2016 -- first in Cuba, then in China, Germany, Australia, Taiwan and the US capital.

The Wall Street Journal cited a former high-ranking US diplomat who said that similar to the other cases around the world, some of the Americans affected at the embassy in Colombia work in intelligence.

"Globally, this has been weighted toward the intelligence community," the former diplomat told the newspaper.

The cause of the illnesses has not been fully diagnosed and the identity of the attacker, if there is one, has not been revealed.

Suspected microwave attacks

The Bogota outbreak comes just days before US Secretary of State Blinken is due to visit the compound on October 20.

On Friday, US President Joe Biden signed a law providing financial compensation for members of the State Department and CIA who suffer brain injury from what officials suspect may be directed microwave attacks.

On Tuesday, Colombian President Ivan Duque said his government was aware of the Havana Syndrome cases at the US embassy in Bogota, but that it was leaving the investigation to Washington "because it is about their own personnel", he told reporters in New York during an official US visit.

After the first recorded Havana Syndrome incident in 2016, the Cuban government investigated the matter but has repeatedly rejected US statements on it as disinformation.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)