Interpol was on worldwide alert yesterday after 13 al-Qaida militants convicted of attacking the American warship USS Cole and French supertanker Limburg escaped from jail in Yemen along with 10 other prisoners, according to a government-run website.
In an exploit reminiscent of a second world war prison camp film, they got away though a 70-metre (230ft) tunnel from their jail at intelligence headquarters in the capital, Sana’a, to a mosque nearby. It is unclear whether the tunnel was dug from inside the prison or the mosque.
The escape, on Friday, was reported by 26sep.net, a website of the Yemeni armed forces newspaper. The most important escapee was Jamal al-Badawi, regarded as a ringleader in the attack on USS Cole. Seventeen US sailors died as two suicide bombers sailed alongside the warship as it refuelled in Aden harbour in 2000. Badawi was sentenced to death, but on appeal his sentence was reduced to 15 years in jail. This is his second jailbreak. In 2003, while awaiting trial, he broke out of a prison along with nine other al-Qaida suspects – by making a hole in a prison wall – but was recaptured. There were suggestions officials had been complicit.
Four other men serving jail terms of up to 10 years for the USS Cole attack also got away in the latest breakout, according to the website. Another important escapee is Fawaz al-Rabe’ie, regarded as ringleader in the Limburg bombing, who is under sentence of death.