Dozens of Qaeda militants escape from Yemen jail

ADEN, Yemen Wed Jun 22, 2011 6:28am EDT

ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - Dozens of al Qaeda militants escaped from a jail in southern Yemen on Wednesday following an attack on the compound, a security official said.

Western countries and neighbouring Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting instability in Yemen to gain a foothold in the impoverished state and launch attacks in the region and beyond.

One soldier was killed and two were wounded when militants opened fire on al-Munawara prison in the southern port city of al-Mukalla.

"The militants opened fire on the prison gates and exchanged fire with the guards, injuring two and killing one," the security official said, adding 62 prisoners had fled.

All the prisoners were Yemeni and most of them had been jailed after returning from Iraq where they fought in militant ranks, he said.

Opponents of long-time ruler President Ali Abdullah Saleh accuse him of allowing Islamist militants to seize Zinjibar, the capital of the flashpoint southern province of Abyan, last month, to promote the notion only he can prevent an Islamist takeover.

(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf, Writing by Isabel Coles)

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