Al Qaeda Jailbreak Sets Tone for Post-Saleh Yemen
Even as Yemen swears in its interim government and prepares to say goodbye to outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, terrorists from Al Qaeda continue to grab headlines in the teetering Gulf country.
At least 13 Al Qaeda-linked terrorists escaped earlier this week from a prison facility in the southern port city of Aden, a source told Gulf News.
"The prisoners tunneled their way out. They were in jail on charges of killing security officers, theft and other crimes," the source said.
Aden, strategically located on an overlook of the Bab Al Mandeb Strait, has borne the brunt of a wave of assassination attempts targeting security intelligence officers.
Following the daring escape, security forces sealed off the city and set up check points. A witness told Gulf News that he saw tanks and armored vehicles extensively deployed in the city.
Yesterday's escape follows a similar incident in the city of Mukalla when 62 Al Qaeda prisoners escaped through a tunnel dug from the city prison.
On Wednesday, in a move reminiscent of a comic book villain's playbook, Al Qaeda released a video explaining how the jail-break was carried out and taunting authorities.
The incident in Aden is similar to the mass escape of prisoners in other countries when troubled regimes were on the verge of collapse.
"This is a planned incident aimed to destabilise the country as it is on the throes of upheaval," Salah Al Saqaledi, an Aden-based journalist, told Reuters.
Aden has become a hub for activists who are calling for the break-up of the former Southern Yemen state that merged with the north in 1990.
Al Qaeda's continued success in carrying out high profile operations under the noses of authorities underscores the deep problems Yemen's new government is faced with.
Deeply impacted by economic and social unrest as the dust settles after an almost ten month series of protests and clashes against the Saleh government, Yemen's economy is close to collapse and its traditionally weak central government is facing extensive unrest in outlying regions.
Al Qaeda has seized much of the southern mountain regions and remote towns in the foothills, where separatists are calling for a break with the North, while Sunni fundamentalists and tribesman vie for dominance in the often contentious and perennially separatist north.
Yemen's new government, backed by the United States and Gulf Cooperation Council - which brokered the transition of power agreement ending Saleh's over three decades long rule - are now faced with rebuilding a country that isn't convinced it wishes to remain a union.
Analysts say Yemen's collapse would only serve to embolden Al Qaeda further and strengthen the terrorists’ foothold in the country.