BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's Iraqi wing 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 on Friday.
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.
In its statement, the Islamic State of Iraq said it had planned the mass escape, sent the prisoners arms and detonated a car bomb outside the prison gate to allow them to flee.
"The unique operation began by infiltrating the security system of the jail... and entering silenced weapons, grenades and explosive belts for the jailed brothers inside the prison, and coordinating with them to take control from inside," the statement read.
Iraq's Interior Ministry has accused prison officials of complicity in the jailbreak, during which the fleeing inmates destroyed prison records.
Eighty members of the security forces were either killed or wounded in the attack, said the group. It also claimed responsibility for 62 other attacks in Iraq over the past three months, most of them targeting security forces and Sunni government-backed militias.
Iraq is home to a number of Sunni Islamist insurgent groups which continue to launch attacks designed to undermine the Shi'ite-led government.
Security at prisons was beefed up following the jail break 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 Jon Boyle)