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Yemen: Most dangerous "Al-Qaeda" members freed in prison break - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Yemeni policemen stand guard as workers rebuild the central prison's outer wall on February 14, 2014 in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)

Yemeni policemen stand guard as workers rebuild the central prison’s outer wall on February 14, 2014 in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—A number of senior Al-Qaeda members were able to escape custody in Thursday’s daring prison break in Sana’a, Yemeni security sources said.

A total of 29 prisoners were able to escape from Sana’a Central Prison on Wednesday, including prisoners on death row. Yemen’s Interior Ministry published the names of the 29 prisoners, confirming that 21 of them are members of Al-Qaeda, including explosive experts and suspects in the attempted assassination of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The prisoners were freed in a coordinated attack on the Central Prison, which saw a car bomb detonated along one of the prison walls while attackers covered the prisoners’ escape. Yemeni authorities confirmed that 7 guards were killed and 4 others injured in the attack.

But one Yemeni prison authority official put the death toll at 10, claiming that two civilians and a military officer were also killed. There was no information as to whether any of the attackers were injured or killed.

A Yemeni Interior Ministry official speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed details of the prison break. The source said: “The terrorist group detonated the car bomb at the western wall of the prison, creating an approximately five-meter (16-foot) hole in the wall. They shot and killed the guards in this area, including using RPGs.”

Yemen mobilized its security apparatus across the country on Friday to recapture the prisoners, publishing the images of the wanted criminals in state media and calling on citizens to contact the authorities if they see anything suspicious.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but many analysts believe that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is responsible given the nature and scope of the attack. AQAP has killed hundreds of people in attacks on military and security targets over the past two years, taking advantage of the political and security instability in the country following the Arab Spring.

AQAP emir Nasser Al-Wuhayshi pledged to free imprisoned Al-Qaeda members last year. Wuhayshi previously escaped from the Sana’a Central Prison, along with 22 other AQAP members, in 2006.