Al-Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on two major prisons in the capital Baghdad and the nearby town of Taji that freed hundreds of militants.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the group also said the attacks that involved over a dozen car bombs came after months of preparation and planning.
Iraqi officials said on Monday that militants armed with mortars and machine guns have targeted the prisons in Taji and Abu Ghraib on late Sunday, sparking gun battles that left dozens of people dead.
Two Iraqi lawmakers, Hakim al-Zamili and Shawan Mohammed Taha, said about 500 prisoners have managed to escape during the attacks and a manhunt is under way.
Following the raids, a high-ranking Iraqi security official issued a statement saying that “Dark day are waiting for Iraq. Some of those who escaped are senior leaders of Al-Qaeda and the operation was executed for this group of leaders. Those who escaped will work on committing acts of revenge.”
The US military previously operated the prisons in Taji and Abu Ghraib, where abuse of prisoners at the hands of American guards sparked outrage around the world and helped fuel anti-American sentiment in Iraq.
The US handed control of both facilities back to Iraqi authorities before the last American troops departed in December 2011.
The incidents are the latest in a string of attacks across Iraq that have left more than 2,800 people dead since the beginning of April.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a shadowy group that was once allegedly led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi was reportedly killed in June 2006.
According to US government and military officials, the group was then led by Ayyub al-Masri, who was killed along with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi — another leader of the group — in a joint Iraqi-US operation in Salahuddin province in April 2010.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been blamed for some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country since the US-led invasion in March 2003.