File photo - Policemen and officials inspect the central prison for Salahuddin province a day after a riot within the prison in Tikrit, 150km north of Baghdad on March 14, 2011.

Baghdad - Iraq's branch of al-Qaeda said it masterminded a jailbreak in the northern city of Tikrit in September 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'a-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. - Reuters