SANAA (AFP) â€” A Yemeni court has jailed 12 intelligence officers for up to three years after convicting them of negligence in the February escape of 23 suspected Al Qaeda members, official media said Friday.
The military court found the officers guilty of “failures of duty that facilitated the escape of dangerous prisoners” and also dismissed them from their jobs in Wednesday’s verdict, the armed forces’ newspaper’s Septembernet website said.
The escape of the 23 suspected militants from a prison in the capital down a 44-metre tunnel to a nearby mosque was a huge embarrassment for the government of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh in its relations with the United States. Ancestral homeland of Al Qaeda leader Osama Ben Laden, the impoverished Arabian Peninsula republic has been a key battleground in the US war against terror declared after the September 11, 2001 attacks and has been the scene of US covert operations against suspected militants.
The February escapees included two high-profile militants who had been convicted of involvement in attacks against Western targets.
One was Jamal Ahmed Badawi, who was serving a 10-year sentence for the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole off the southern port city of Aden in which 17 US sailors were killed.
The other was Fawaz Yahya Rabihi, who was implicated in a similar attack two years later against the French oil tanker Limburg, in which one Bulgarian crew member was killed.
“This was a real blow, a real setback to what had been a very successful and productive partnership [between the two governments] against terrorism in Yemen,” US ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski told AFP in April.