Soccer balls, broomsticks aid Yemen jailbreak
Report details how 23 prisoners escaped custody
From Henry Schuster
Arrows in this photo from the government report point out some of the ordinary items the prisoners used to dig the escape tunnel.
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(CNN) -- Soccer balls, broomsticks and pieces of a broken fan were used to dig the tunnel through which 23 Yemeni fugitives, including members of al Qaeda, escaped prison this month, according to a report by the Yemeni government.
The newly released report said the prisoners might have gotten the idea for the tunnel from a similar escape tunnel discovered last year at Camp Bucca, Iraq, where Iraqi detainees are being held by the U.S. military.
"There is a probability that the fugitives received the Camp Bucca tunnel plan through one of the prisoners who were in Iraq. (Watch how soccer balls helped them get air -- 1:37)
Prisoners may have also been informed about the plan through a visitor who looked it up on the Internet or any other media outlets," the Yemeni report said.
The report confirmed that three of the 23 escapees surrendered last week, but did not name them.
The report said the tunnel went down 3 meters below the prison cell in the Political Security Headquarters in San'a, Yemen, and then continued for 44 meters before ending in the women's bathroom of the nearby al-Awaqaf Mosque.
The Yemeni government report said digging tools included four soccer balls and shovels made from broomsticks and fan parts.
The prisoners made mud from the dirt, and hid it in different ways throughout their cells.
"One of the inmate bathrooms was filled with dirt to the ceiling," the report said. "The accumulation of dirt in the prisoners' cells demonstrated the negligence and disregard of some of the detention center officials, because they failed to routinely search the prison cells."
Prison officials are also being investigated, according to the report.
Pictures made public by the Yemenis show the buckets and rope used by the prisoners, and mud hidden under piles of clothing in a cell.
The soccer balls were apparently combined with plastic tubing into a device that let the prisoners breathe while they were working in the tunnel.
Among the prison escapees are Jamal al-Badawi and Jaber A. Elbaneh, fugitives of particular interest to Washington.
Al-Badawi was sentenced to death by a Yemeni court in September 2004 for orchestrating the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000. Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 others were wounded when two suicide bombers detonated an explosives-laden boat next to the destroyer while it was docked in the Port of Aden.
Elbaneh is charged with providing material support to terrorists and is a known member of a terrorist cell in Lackawanna, New York, dubbed the Lackawanna Six. He dodged the fate of his counterparts, who pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges in 2003 and are serving seven- to 10-year sentences in U.S. federal prison.
Like them, Elbaneh traveled to an al Qaeda paramilitary camp in the summer of 2001, just weeks before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, according to authorities.
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