A massive prison break in Yemen freed nearly 1,200 detainees, including some suspected al-Qaeda militants.
Although the prison break itself has been confirmed, the details surrounding it remain shrouded in mystery. Some news outlets have been told the prisoners were apparently able to escape after their guards fled their posts in the face of the intense fighting going on in the region.
Official government reports, however, dispute that narrative.
“Groups of al Qaeda supporters… today attacked the prison in the city of Taiz and more than 1,200 dangerous prisoners escaped,” one official said. “Heavy fighting took place near the central prison and the popular committees approached and seized control of the area, but [rebel] forces opened the doors,” he also stated. “Popular committees” is the term for militias used by parties to the Yemen conflict.
Another Yemeni official said that a number of the escapees were “suspected of belonging to al Qaeda,” but would not specify how many.
Some reports say that the prison had been a site of protest prior to the mass jailbreak.
Shiite Houthi rebels are assaulting the city where the prison is located. A Saudi-led coalition is trying to beat back the oncoming tide of fighters, but even with air support, the coalition is struggling to make gains.
Earlier this year, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula freed 300 prisoners from their cells in a Yemeni port city.
Houthi forces also allegedly freed dangerous prisoners in April.
The Pentagon has not issued any statements about the prison breaks, but top U.S. security officials are likely keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops.
Although this chaos is helping certain extremist organizations in some key ways, al-Qaeda and other Sunni groups view the Houthi rebels as apostate because the Houthis belong to the Shia denomination of Islam.
On Monday, ISIS, which belongs to the Sunni denomination, claimed responsibility for a bombing in Yemen—this time a car bombing targeting a group of mourners at a funeral. Although no one was killed, 35 were seriously injured, and two remain in critical condition.
In March, ISIS claimed responsibility for a string of bombings at Shiite mosques frequented by Houthi rebels. 137 died in those blasts.