Over 60 suspected al-Qaeda fighters escaped from their Yemeni jail on Wednesday in what could be another indication that the ongoing unrest in the country has bolstered extremist elements in their campaign to mount a challenge to authorities in the county’s southern section.

It was reported that the inmates attacked the prison guards and took their weapons after heavily armed men stormed to the prison facility located in the port city of Mukalla in the southeastern province of Hadramout. Mukallla is Hadramut province’s capital city.

According to reports, at least one prisoner and one member of the security forces were killed in gun battle during the raid on Wednesday. Yemeni officials admit that as many as 63 prisoners had bolted out of Almakla prison and so far two had been rearrested.

The escapees, some had already been convicted, dug a 35-meter tunnel on their own way out. Some witnesses saw armed militants attacking the prison at about 8 AM and even fired heavy artillery before the prisoners were able to complete the escape.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the civil society organizations based in Hadramut refuted claims that there was an attack that took place. He said that authorities had actually permitted the suspected terrorists to escape from prison.

Many of the escapees have been convicted on terror charges or currently in custody as they await their trial. The country is a known hub of the AQAP or the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula organization, accused for the foiled attempt to blow up a US airliner in Detroit, Michigan in 2009 as well as the terror plot involving bombs carried by cargo planes bound for the US in 2010.

In 2006, there was also a major jail break by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen where 23 prisoners had also escaped in a Sanaa detention facility. Among those who had escaped then was Qassim al-Raimi, a prominent figure in the Islamic terror organization and was connected to the July 2007 suicide bombing in Yemen that killed eight Spanish tourists.

Yemen is currently in the middle of a political upheaval after a popular protest against the continued dominance of the long-reigning political elite. The crisis started when demonstrators followed suit in the successful revolts that occurred in Egypt and Tunisia early this year. Started initially as a peaceful protest, it paved way to deadly gun battles between tribal militias and government forces.

Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in control of the country since 1978, was taken to neighboring Saudi Arabia after surviving an attack by alleged tribal militias on the presidential compound earlier this month. Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has since become the country’s acting president in the absence of Saleh.

Experts are saying that al-Qaeda is presumably taking advantage of the instability and the ongoing political crisis in this Arab country. However, opposition leaders who want Saleh out of office say that the regime is calculatingly pushing for the al-Qaeda angle to undermine the gains of the anti-government protesters.

Yemen is the poorest nation in the Arab world and for many years has struggled with a separatist movement in the southern part of the country as well as a Shia insurrection in the northern section.