BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's branch of al Qaeda said it masterminded a jailbreak in the northern city of Tikrit last month and smuggled weapons to inmates, according to a statement posted on militant websites.
Dozens of prisoners, many of them convicted members of al Qaeda on death row, fought their way out of the jail, killing 16 members of the security forces in ensuing clashes.
Al Qaeda issued a statement saying it planned the mass escape with prisoners, sent them arms and detonated a car bomb outside the prison gate to give them a chance to flee, according to SITE, a group which monitors militant Islamist websites.
Iraq's interior ministry has accused prison officials of complicity in the jailbreak.
The country is home to a number of Sunni Islamist insurgent groups, including a local branch of al Qaeda called the Islamic State of Iraq, which continue to launch attacks to undermine the Shi'ite-led government.
Security at prisons was beefed up following the jailbreak and some inmates were transferred to fortified jails.
Last September, 35 prisoners facing terrorism charges escaped via a sewage pipe from a temporary jail in the northern city of Mosul, an al Qaeda stronghold.
(Reporting and writing by Suadad al-Salhy; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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