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Yemen denies it released al Qaeda prisoners

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  • Yemen calls reports "exaggerated and false"
  • Released prisoners "not affiliated in any way to al Qaeda," embassy says
  • Country has been an al Qaeda safe haven
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(CNN) -- Yemen has denied "exaggerated and false" media reports that it recently released 170 al Qaeda suspects from its prisons, according to a statement issued on Tuesday by its embassy in Washington.

An unnamed security services official in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa told Agence France-Press on Sunday that Yemeni authorities had directives to release 176 people with links to the al Qaeda terrorist network. Of those, 95 had already been released, he told AFP.

The Yemeni Embassy said authorities have released 108 prisoners, but they were "not affiliated in any way to al Qaeda."

"The released prisoners have been accused in the past of violating Yemeni laws and were tried in the courts," the embassy said. "The majority of them have served their sentences in prison. The government of Yemen will continue to closely monitor all newly released prisoners."

Last week, U.S. and Yemeni officials told CNN's Barbara Starr that a growing number of al Qaeda operatives have entered Yemen from Saudi Arabia in recent weeks and have established a renewed network that potentially threatens U.S. and Saudi targets in the region.

Yemen has long been an al Qaeda safe haven, and the terrorist network has been linked to the USS Cole bombing there in 2000 as well as the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa last year.

Robert Worth, who covers the Middle East for The New York Times, explained in a recent article that Yemen has "unusually flexible policies in which convicted terrorists are sometimes paroled in exchange for pledges of passivity and help in negotiating with other militants." This policy, according to Worth, has been routinely criticized by U.S. officials.

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