May 24, 2007 / 1:00 PM / 10 years ago

Yemen says key al Qaeda escapee back in jail

SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni-American al Qaeda militant, thought to be a key figure in the fatal bombing of the U.S. warship Cole in 2000, is back behind bars after a mass jail breakout last year, Yemen's interior minister said.

Jaber Elbaneh, a key al Qaeda leader, was one of the 23 inmates who tunneled out of jail in the capital, Sanaa in February 2006, Rshad al-Alimi told reporters on Thursday.

He said the inmate gave himself up two days ago.

Yemen says Elbaneh was also one of the masterminds of the 2002 attack on the French supertanker Limburg. He was linked to the "Lackawanna Six" and wanted by the FBI.

The term Lackawanna 6, referred to a group of Yemeni-Americans who attended an al Qaeda weapons training camp in Afghanistan in 2001. The cell was named after the men's home town in New York state.

The jailbreak embarrassed Yemen's government, which is battling Islamist militants, and raised questions about the Arab state's security measures among its Western allies.

The government had offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of any of the fugitives.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.

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