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Yemen's al Qaeda leader says will free prisoners

A police officer checks documents of a traveller outside the departure lounge Sanaa International Airport August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled Abd
A police officer checks documents of a traveller outside the departure lounge Sanaa International Airport August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled Abd

DUBAI (Reuters) - The leader of al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, said he would free jailed Islamist militants soon, days after the United States shut missions across the Middle East because of the threat of an attack, possibly from Yemen.

Wuhayshi did not say in his Internet statement how he would free those jailed, but al Qaeda militants staged at least two prison breaks last month.

Intercepted communication between Wuhayshi and Ayman al-Zawahri, who replaced Osama bin Laden as head of al Qaeda, was part of intelligence that prompted the United States to close 19 U.S. embassies and send some staff in Yemen home. Washington has also stepped up drone strikes targeting militants in Yemen.

"We ask God to make us a cause for unlocking your incarceration and relieving your agony," Wuhayshi, head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), said in the statement seen on Monday on a website used by Islamists.

"Your brothers are pounding the walls of injustice and the thrones of oppression. These walls and thrones are coming down every day and victory is but one step. Victory is one hour of perseverance," said Wuhayshi, a former aide to bin Laden who broke out of a prison in Yemen in 2006.

The authenticity of the statement could not immediately be verified.

The United States regards AQAP, formed by the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al Qaeda, as one of the most dangerous militant groups in the Middle East.

Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for simultaneous raids on two Iraqi prisons, setting more than 500 inmates free in July.

On July 27, more than 1,000 inmates broke out of a prison on the outskirts of Benghazi in Libya, following what an official said was an attack on the facility. It was not clear who was behind the assault.

(Reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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