Tribesmen celebrate in Yemen's second-largest city Taez (Taiz), a flashpoint of anti-regime demonstrations south of the capital Sanaa, on June 5, 2011, as hundreds of people took to the streets to celebrate the departure of long term President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounded in a blast June 3, and who left for treatment in Saudi Arabia. UPI\Mohammad Abdullah | License Photo
SANAA, Yemen, June 22 (UPI) -- Opposition figures blamed pro-government military officials for allowing more than 60 suspected members of al-Qaida to escape Wednesday from a Yemeni prison.
The mass escape from the prison occurred Wednesday in the southern city of Mukalla.
Opposition leaders blamed senior military officials loyal to embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for the prison break. They said it was an effort to get financial support from Washington and prop up the regime of the Yemeni president, the Yemen Post reports.
The prison break is considered the largest for suspected al-Qaida fighters in Yemen. The origins of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen's offshoot, date to a February 2006 prison break when 23 al-Qaida suspects tunneled out of a prison in Sanaa and into a mosque, walking out the door after morning prayers.
Yemen is a key ally in U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in the region and AQAP has evolved into a key security concern for Washington.
The prison break comes as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman arrived Wednesday in Sanaa to meet with the country's vice president.
Saleh is expected to return to Yemen from Saudi Arabia this week. He was sent to a hospital in Saudi Arabia after suffering burns and shrapnel wounds in an attack on his presidential compound June 3.