USS Cole Bombing Mastermind Escapes Prison

A man considered a mastermind of the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 sailors in a Yemeni port in 2000 was among 23 people who escaped from a Yemen prison last week, Interpol said Sunday.

The international police agency issued an "urgent global security alert" for those who escaped Friday from the prison via a tunnel. It called the escapees "dangerous individuals."

A Yemen security official announced the escape of convicted Al Qaeda members Friday but did not provide details.

Interpol said in a statement that at least 13 of the 23 escapees were convicted Al Qaeda fighters who escaped via a 140-yard-long tunnel "dug by the prisoners and co-conspirators outside."

Yemeni officials confirmed to Interpol that a man considered a mastermind of the Cole attack, identified as Jamal al-Badawi, was among those who escaped.

Al-Badawi was among those sentenced to death in September 2004 for plotting the USS Cole attack. Two homicide bombers blew up an explosives-laden boat next to the destroyer as it refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000.

Another of the 23 escapees was identified as Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeiee, considered by Interpol to be one of those responsible for a 2002 attack on the French tanker Limburg off Yemen's coast. That attack killed a Bulgarian crew member and spilled 90,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Aden.

Interpol's urgent global security alert, known as an "orange notice," was issued by agency Secretary General Ronald Noble "because the escape and unknown whereabouts of Al Qaeda terrorists constituted a clear and present danger to all countries," the statement said.

Noble urged Yemen — the ancestral home of Usama bin Laden — to provide names, photographs, fingerprints and other information about the suspects.

A Yemen security official said on condition of anonymity Friday that the 23 escapees had fled a prison in the capital, San'a, that he described as a military intelligence detention center. The official said only that the escapees had all had been sentenced last year on terrorism-related charges.

The escape came a day before the expected start of a trial of 15 people charged with involvement in terror operations in Yemen, including Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal, who is suspected of masterminding the Cole bombing and the 2002 bombing of the Limburg.

The trial was postponed indefinitely.

Yemen was long a haven for Islamic militants. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the government sided with the U.S.-led war on terrorism.