Al-Qaeda men tunnel their way out of Yemen jail

Al-Qaeda men tunnel their way out of Yemen jail

More than 60 prisoners escape after attacking guards

 In a carefully choreographed escape from the Mukalla prison in Hadramout province, more than 60 al-Qaeda-linked militants attacked their guards and seized their weapons before they made their way through a 45-metre tunnel to freedom.

Simultaneously, bands of gunmen opened fire at the prison from outside to divert the guards’ attention, the officials said.

At least one guard was killed and another wounded, said the officials. The officials said many of the inmates who escaped belonged to a local Hadramout cell blamed for a series of attacks on security forces in the last two years. Their leader, Hamza al-Qehety, was believed to be among those who escaped on Wednesday.

The last major breakout by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen took place in 2006, when 23 escaped a Sanaa detention facility. Among them was Nasser al-Wahishi, who went on to become the leader of Qaeda in Yemen, as well as Qassim al-Rimi, a dominant figure in the group. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has been linked to several nearly successful attacks on U.S. targets, including the plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009. The group also put sophisticated bombs into US-addressed parcels that made it onto cargo flights last year.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants seized control last month of two towns in Abyan, another southern province, and briefly took control of several neighborhoods in the neighboring province of Lahj last week.

Some of these militants belong to groups that have been quietly tolerated by longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh and used to counter the weight of other extremists or against secessionists in the mostly secular south of the country.

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