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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate has said it was behind last month's prison escape involving 19 inmates in the northern city of Kirkuk, a group that monitors online communications among insurgents said on Friday.
The inmates, most of whom were terrorist suspects, escaped from a temporary prison on March 23 by dismantling the extractor fan in a bathroom and by then using blankets to escape through the opening. Twenty-two policemen and guards employed at the jail were arrested in connection with the escape.
On Friday, the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group said the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella group for al Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgents, had claimed responsibility for the jail break in a statement posted on Islamist websites on Thursday.
"Security efforts were successful in Kirkuk province to penetrate the strict measures around al-Tasfirat prison and contact a group of imprisoned mujahideen inside of it," ISI was quoted by SITE as saying.
"The brothers managed, with help from Allah and His guidance, to drug the guards responsible for watching the camp at night in a particular way, and then open a gap in the wall of one of the cells for 19 mujahideen to escape."
Prison breaks are not uncommon in Iraq. 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.
The ISI often claims responsibility for attacks in Iraq, where killings and bombings still occur daily, though overall levels of violence have dropped from the peak of sectarian fighting in 2006-7.
The insurgent group said last month it was behind dozens of bombings that killed 52 people.
Kirkuk, which is inhabited by Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and others, is at the heart of a long-running dispute between Iraq's central government and the autonomous Kurdish region, which lays claim to the city and its rich oil reserves.
Reporting by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Andrew Osborn