Al-Qaeda militants seized a main prison in the Yemeni city of al-Mukalla today, freeing hundreds of inmates in a large-scale attack, locals say. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula first targeted security headquarters, the presidential palace, a Central Bank branch, and other government buildings in the capital of Hadhramaut province in an apparent diversion before moving on the prison, the New York Times reports. The Guardian reports that more than 300 inmates were freed, including regional AQAP leader Khalid Batarfi, who had been locked up for four years. A third of the prisoners are believed to have al-Qaeda ties. Two prison guards and five inmates were killed as gunfire and blasts erupted in the city overnight.
Local military units moved in with helicopters to battle the militants early today and many have since backed off, reports CNN, which estimates some 270 inmates have escaped. AQAP, which also took hold of the local radio headquarters, appears to be making the most of what the Times calls "a growing anarchy" that has sprung up in Yemen in recent weeks. Houthi rebels and their allies, who ousted president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi from power, have been fighting with those loyal to him in the city of Aden, some 300 miles away from al-Mukalla. After Saudi-led airstrikes, Houthi troops withdrew from central Aden today, though they remain in surrounding positions, locals say, per the Telegraph. The US pulled its last troops from Yemen late last month. (Read more Yemen stories.)