Al-Qaeda fighters have stormed a prison in southeastern Yemen and freed several hundred inmates, including one of their leaders, a security official said.
Khalid Batarfi, a senior al-Qaeda figure who had been held for more than four years, was among more than 300 prisoners who escaped from the jail in Hadramout province on Thursday, AFP news agency reported the official as saying.
Two prison guards and five inmates were killed in clashes during the prison break, according to the official.
Batarfi is among al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s top regional commanders, known for his leading role in a 2011-2012 battle with Yemeni government troops during which the fighters seized large amounts of territory in the south and east.
Al-Qaeda gunmen also clashed on Thursday with troops guarding the local administration complex in the provincial capital Mukalla, a branch of the central bank and the police headquarters, the official said.
Yemen has descended further into chaos since a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes a week ago against positions held by Houthi rebels and their allies across the country.
Observers have warned that Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, classified by the United States as the network’s deadliest franchise, could exploit the unrest to strengthen its presence in the country.