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Yemen Jailbreak Frees 1,200 Inmates, Including Al Qaeda Suspects

A security expert told VICE News that it's unlikely the prisoners who broke out on Tuesday will be rearrested, as the rule of law has effectively collapsed in Yemen.

by Kayleen Devlin
Jul 1 2015, 1:35pm

Taiz, Yemen. Imagen por Rod Waddington

Around 1,200 prisoners escaped a jail in the Yemeni city of Taiz on Tuesday, including suspected al Qaeda militants. The exact details of how the inmates fled are currently varied, but it appears unlikely that most of them will be recaptured anytime soon.

A security official in Yemen said that the jailbreak happened after guards deserted their posts when the prison was caught in crossfire between Houthi rebels and southerners fighting for autonomy.

However, the BBC reported that state news agency Saba quoted a security official saying that the prisoners escaped after the jail came under attack from al Qaeda fighters.

Reuters, meanwhile, has quoted an official as saying that inmates fled amid heavy clashes between conflicting militias.

Related: Exclusive: Saudi Arabia Is Thwarting the Distribution of Emergency Aid in Yemen

Speaking to VICE News, Adam Baron from the European Council on Foreign Relations said that it's unlikely that many of the escaped prisoners will be rearrested.

"Effectively in Yemen you're looking at a country where the rule of law has collapsed, and it's ruled by militia. Anything resembling law enforcement will be more focused on fighting militias than on rearresting these prisoners," Baron said.

'Yemen is a country descending into chaos. There's no way to sugar coat that.'

Since the Saudi-led air coalition began in Yemen on March 26, the country has seen intensive fighting between Shia Houthi rebels and government forces.

Houthis seized Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in September and later placed Yemen's president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Haddi, under house arrest before he fled the country. The Saudi-led airstrikes and subsequent fighting between warring factions has seen more than 2,000 people killed and a million displaced according to the UN.

Related: Welcome to Yemen, Where War Has Turned Cities Into Living Hell

"Security in Yemen has decreased markedly over the past six months," Baron told VICE News, "so as shocking as this prison break may seem, it's hardly surprising. Yemen is a country descending into chaos. There's no way to sugar coat that."

Asked whether the release of suspected al Qaeda militants would pose any threat to security, Baron suggested that "there are far more pressing things to worry about."

"In terms of al Qaeda militants who escaped from the prison, I've been hearing that it's in the single digits. Most people who have escaped, be it murderers or thieves, may pose a threat to individual people, but there's no evidence to suggest that they will pose a threat on an international level."

In an increasingly lawless atmosphere, this is now the third prison outbreak that Yemen has seen since the Saudi air campaign began in March. In April, up to 300 inmates, including a top militant leader, were freed from a prison in Mukalla after al Qaeda militants captured the southern port city.

Image via Flickr.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Watch the VICE News documentary, Yemen: A Failed State here.