updated 11/22/2004 2:25:28 PM ET 2004-11-22T19:25:28

A militant group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility Monday for kidnapping and then releasing three family members of Iraq’s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi.

A cousin of the prime minister, Ghazi Allawi, 75, was abducted by gunmen from his Baghdad home on Nov. 9, along with his wife and his pregnant daughter-in-law. The two women were released on Nov. 14 and the cousin was released Sunday.

After the kidnappings, a previously unknown group identifying itself as Ansar al-Jihad said it held the three and threatened to behead them unless all Iraqi detainees were released and the attack on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah halted.

But on Monday, a statement by al-Zarqawi’s group, called al-Qaida of Jihad in Iraq, said it carried out the kidnappings. The group said it had released Ghazi Allawi and his family on Sunday after determining they were not involved in Allawi’s government.

The authenticity of the statement, posted on a Web site known to be used by militant Islamic groups, could not be verified.

An individual called Abu Maysara, known as the media coordinator of al-Zarqawi’s group, then posted a separate comment on the same Web site saying the group had not claimed responsibility earlier “for special reasons.”

The group did not mention the Ansar al-Jihad group.

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