Al Qaeda militants in Yemen broke into a prison in the southern part of the country on Thursday, freeing hundreds of inmates, including a leader of the group, as the security situation throughout the country continued to deteriorate.
Some 300 prisoners escaped the prison in the port city of Mukalla, including Khalid Batarfi, a regional al Qaeda commander who had been held there for more than four years.
Five inmates and two guards were reportedly killed during the jailbreak. Violent clashes between militants and security forces also erupted in other parts of the city and militants seized the local radio station, halting all broadcasts.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — also known by the acronym AQAP — has maintained a strong presence in several areas of Yemen, despite a heavy government crackdown. Recently, the group has reportedly faced some competition from cells loyal to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Observers have warned before that Yemen's ongoing civil conflict — which pits the Saudi-backed official government against Shia Houthi rebels supported by Iran — might offer an opportunity for AQAP to seize momentum in the chaos.
Today's prison break appears to be a sign of AQAP seizing such an opportunity.
The video below, shared on Facebook, reportedly shows some of the inmates fleeing the prison.
Meanwhile the southern port city of Aden, where government forces have clashed with Houthi insurgents, has also come under heavy bombardments by a pro-government Saudi-led coalition for over a week now. Reuters reported that dozens of unidentified armed men had disembarked at the local port.
Yemeni officials denied reports by witnesses who described the men leaving a single vessel. If true, the landing would mark the first ground deployment of foreign troops in Yemen, where Saudi and Iranian interests are being played out alongside local factions in a deeply divided country.
Houthi rebels remain in control of large parts of Aden, and reportedly seized the presidential palace there on Thursday — while Saudi officials say the waters surrounding the city are under their control.
Aden has become a hotspot in Yemen's latest conflict after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled the capital of Sanaa, which Houthi rebels took over, to Aden in February. He has since fled Aden as well, seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia, but conflict in the city persists.
Local residents have been caught in the middle of fighting on the ground, as well as under Saudi bombs. Snipers have also reportedly positioned themselves in the surrounding mountains.
"People are afraid and terrified by the bombardment," one resident, Farouq Abdu, told Reuters. "No one is on the — it's like a curfew."
On Thursday, dozens of people were reportedly killed in fighting in Aden, as local pro-government groups called for a ceasefire to evacuate the wounded. The videos below show fighting in Aden's central Crater district, where Houthi rebels advanced.
Government officials have been calling for foreign intervention and welcomed Saudi involvement. Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla told Reuters he didn't know whether foreign troops had actually landed in Aden but added, "I hope so. I hope very much."
Houthi rebels for their part, have been counting their victories despite the heavy airstrikes targeting them.
"The victories in Aden today embarrass this campaign and silenced the aggressor states," Mohammad Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the group, said on local television, referring to the Saudi offensive.