Dozens of Al Qaeda militants tunneled their way out of a prison in southern Yemen on Wednesday, highlighting how the political upheaval in the country has emboldened them to challenge authorities, according to msnbc.
In what might have been a choreographed escape from the Mukalla prison in Hadramout province, the militants attacked the guards and seized their weapons before they fled through a 45-yard tunnel they dug under their cells. Officials said militants attacked the prison from the outside as the prisoners were escaping, BBC News said.
About 60 militants are said to have escaped, including a large number who had been convicted on terrorism charges, with the 12 most dangerous belonging to the Tarmin cell, whose leader Hamza al-Quaiti was killed in clashes with police in 2008, Bloomberg News said, citing an official. Some of the escapees were members of an Al Qaeda cell that has killed foreign tourists and attempted to hit the US Embassy in Yemen, the Washington Post said, citing Yemeni officials.
A similar incident took place in 2006 when 23 Al Qaeda militants escaped from a jail in Sana’a, the capital, according to Bloomberg News.
Yemen is in the midst of a political crisis following a popular uprising and an elite power struggle, according to BBC News. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power since 1978, was wounded in an attack on his compound earlier this month and is being treated in Saudi Arabia.
Many officials are concerned that extremists may try to take advantage of the instability in Yemen. Some of the militants in the country belong to groups that have been tolerated by Saleh and used against other extremists or against secessionists in the mostly secular south of the country, msnbc said.