Yemen president lashes out at 'below-par' security services

SANAA (AFP) - President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi on Saturday lashed out at the "below-par" performance of Yemen's security services, after 29 inmates including suspected Al Qaeda members escaped from Sanaa central prison.

The prison break after an assault on Thursday unmasked a lack of improved security at the facility, despite vows by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) chief Nasser al-Wuhayshi last year to free incarcerated members of his group.

Wuhayshi himself escaped in February 2006 from the political security prison in Sanaa with 22 other members of AQAP before being named the group's leader a year later.

Mr Hadi on Saturday made a surprise visit to the interior ministry and the central prison where he was briefed on details of the assault, state news agency Saba reported.

The president, leading the country for an interim transitional period, "pointed out that terrorist acts couldn't have been at this level if it weren't for the below-par performance of the security services," Saba reported.

"Any visitor to a ministry or any such installation can easily judge the level of readiness and security even from outside the entrance," Mr Hadi said at the interior ministry. He called for "increased alertness" by security forces, "especially in Sanaa," Saba reported.

Security officials said a two-pronged assault on the prison began when an explosives-laden vehicle slammed into the eastern gate just after sunset.

Suspected Al Qaeda gunmen simultaneously attacked guards at the main entrance, creating a diversion that allowed some prisoners to escape through the hole.

Eleven security members were killed in the assault, according to officials.

Such large-scale assaults have become more frequent in Yemen, prompting analysts to warn of Al Qaeda penetration into security and military services.

In December, Al Qaeda gunmen wearing military fatigues launched a brazen daylight assault on the defence ministry that killed 56 people.

Several branches of the security apparatus are still controlled by officials loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was ousted in 2011 following an uprising against his 33 years in power.

Mr Saleh's critics accuse him of using his loyalists to hamper transition in the poverty-striken country.