At least 40 militants reportedly escaped from a southern Yemen prison Wednesday, several news outlets reported, underscoring Western fears that militants would be emboldened and empowered by the current chaos in the country.
But Yemen scholars and reporters have expressed doubts about the validity of the reports and the danger posed by the inmates who may have escaped.
Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government has been accused in the past of exaggerating the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other militant groups in order to justify his grip on power and gain more US aid. Mr. Saleh, who is currently convalescing in Saudi Arabia, has argued that the country could fall to AQAP without his leadership, according to Christian Science Monitor.
Widespread tumult has engulfed Yemen for months, with thousands of demonstrators who oppose the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh urging the president's departure. Saleh was taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment after injuries suffered in an attack on his compound.
Saleh's party said Tuesday that he planned to return to Yemen on Friday. Opposition leaders called news of Saleh's return false rumors, says CNN.
Russian small missile ships - the Grad Sviyazhsk and the Great Ustyug - set off for a mission to the Mediterranean Sea