February 17, 2006

Yemen - Ally in the War on Terror?

Twenty three Al-Qa'idah prisoners escaped from a Yemeni maximum security prison by tunneling from the prison to the women's room of a mosque located hundreds of feet outside the prison compound. The imam at the mosque claimed that his warnings that something was going on under the mosque were ignored. In fact, the prison was unaware that the prisoners were missing until the imam notified the government that he had discovered a tunnel exit in the mosque.

Included in the 23 escapees were Jamal al-Badawi, mastermind 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbor, and Jabir Al-Banah, an American citizen wanted in New York state for terrorist activities. The FBI is offering a $5 million reward for Al-Banah's capture.

Read an earlier piece I wrote on the USS Cole and why it should never have been in Aden.)

This "escape" raises many questions, not the least of which is just how committed is the country of Yemen to support America's war on terrorism. This is a maximum security prison in the capital city of Sana'. Twenty three prisoners in a maximum security compound in the capital city were able to dig a tunnel and escape undetected until someone outside the facility told the authorities about it? Hard to believe.

Obviously, the prisoners had to have some assistance. Initially, the thought was that the tunnel may have been dug from outside the prison, starting at the mosque and terminating in the prison. The imam claims this is not true, and he was detained by Yemeni authorities for interrogation on this issue. The most likely explanation is help from the prison staff. Many of them are being questioned.

Ignored warnings, all the prisoners in one cell, their ability to tunnel hundreds of feet, their ability to end up exactly in the section of the mosque that would be hardest to detect, prison officials unaware that anyone was missing - one has to wonder how firm Yemen is committed to support our war on terrorism.