SANAA, Yemen – Land mines planted by al-Qaida militants before they fled key southern Yemen strongholds have killed 73 civilians over the past week, Yemeni officials said Tuesday.
Engineering teams have removed some 3,000 land mines around Zinjibar and Jaar, according to the governor's office in Abyan province.
Government troops captured both towns in a two-month offensive to uproot al-Qaida fighters from large swaths of land they captured during last year's political turmoil. Mines left behind killed 73 residents, the officials said.
The statement also said Jaar residents have found the bodies of 20 militants and two soldiers killed in last week's fighting.
Muqbel Shaddad, a Jaar resident, said over the phone that the bodies were scattered in bushes and around the countryside.
An Interior Ministry official said five al-Qaida militants detained for carrying out terrorist attacks escaped Tuesday from a prison in the port city of Hudayda.
He said one of the detainees was believed to be a senior al-Qaida member who was involved in plotting an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa in 2008. Two other prisoners recruited militants for the group's operations outside Yemen, and another was once detained in Syria after fighting with al-Qaida in Iraq.
The official said the prisoners tunneled their way out of the prison.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, said the ministry has started an investigation to determine who helped them to escape.