ADEN, Yemen – A suspected Yemeni member of Al Qaeda, arrested while trying to enter the country illegally, has escaped from prison, security officials said Wednesday.
The man, identified only by his first name, Walid, was arrested earlier this year in a desert area near the Oman-Yemen border and handed over to Yemeni authorities, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
They said the man, in his 30s, fled Afghanistan after fighting U.S. forces in the Tora Bora region in December, the officials said.
Authorities said they didn't know how he escaped from jail. He was transferred last month from a prison in the capital San`a to the southern port city of Aden, where several other Al Qaeda suspects are being held.
Yemen says it is holding 85 people suspected of links to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.
Yemen, the ancestral home of the bin Laden family, has been a hotbed of terrorist activity. In October 2000, a dinghy loaded with explosives rammed the destroyer USS Cole as it was refueling in Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors.
Two Australians allegedly involved in terrorism in Afghanistan could be held in a U.S. military prison in Cuba until the war on terror ends, a senior U.S. diplomat said in Australia on Wednesday.
"Until the war is over, I think that you have to be careful that you don't put people back on the street who might harm the society that you're trying to defend," said U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer.
He said David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib were "pretty deeply involved in what was going on in Afghanistan. I am satisfied that they are involved in terrorism."
Hicks, 26, was brought by the U.S. military to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since shortly after his capture in early December. More than 500 men captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan are being held at the base in Cuba.
The Australian government has accused Hicks of training with Al Qaeda while in Afghanistan.
His family has said the former cowboy from the southern Australian city of Adelaide converted to Islam and fought with the Taliban, but was never an Al Qaeda terrorist.
Habib, a 46-year-old father of four who holds Egyptian and Australian citizenship, was arrested in Pakistan in October. He was first transferred to Egyptian custody, then moved to Afghanistan where he was handed over to the U.S. military.
Habib's family in Sydney has denied he was involved with Al Qaeda and said he was looking for an Islamic school for his children when he was arrested.
Australian officials have spoken to both men, but the two have not been allowed any legal representation or family visits.