An al Qaeda operative sentenced to death for plotting the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 sailors in 2000 was among a group of convicts who escaped from a Yemen prison last week, Interpol said Sunday in issuing a global security alert.
The capture, trial and imprisonment of those responsible for the attack on the USS Cole was a high point in Yemen's declared alliance with the United States in the war on terror, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips. The escape of those behind the attack is a deep embarrassment and puts Yemen's determination into question.
Officials set up checkpoints around the capital of San'a, where the prison was located, to try to catch the escapees before they could flee to the protection of mountain tribes, according to a Yemeni security official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Some mountainous tribal areas are essentially outside the control of Yemen's central government, raising fears the fugitives could hide there before escaping the country.
The Yemeni government made no official comment Sunday. Phillips reports that Interpol would like to raise the alert level to red, but that they have not yet received the proper paper work from the Yemeni government to do so.
Yemeni officials said Jamal al-Badawi — a man convicted of plotting, preparing and helping carry out the Cole bombing — was among the fugitives, Interpol said. Al-Badawi was among those sentenced to death in September 2004 for plotting the attack, in which two suicide bombers blew up an explosives-laden boat next to the destroyer as it refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000.
A Yemeni security official announced the escape of convicted al Qaeda members Friday but did not provide any details or names. The official said only that the escapees had all had been sentenced last year on terrorism-related charges.
Interpol said in a statement that at least 13 of the 23 escapees were convicted al Qaeda fighters.
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