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Pakistani blast victim helps Indian cops

By Sagar Kulkarni in Panipat
February 23, 2007 21:02 IST
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Even as he grapples with the loss of five children in the bombing of the Samjhauta Express, Pakistani storeowner Rana Shaukat Ali is helping Indian investigators piece together clues that may help track down the perpetrators of the terror attack.

In Panipat to identify the bodies of his dead children, Ali said a man got off the moving train minutes before the two blasts near Diwana that sparked a devastating fire, which claimed 68 lives. Ali, who suffered 15 per cent burns, was earlier admitted to Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital, where investigators recorded his statement to reconstruct events leading up to the blasts.

Descriptions provided by him helped police issue the sketches of two suspects. "Police asked me several things about the blasts and I told them what I saw," Ali, who survived the blasts along with his wife Rukhsana and one-year-old daughter Aksa, told reporters at the civil hospital in Panipat on Friday.

"I saw two men on a seat near where I was seated. The train's TTE approached one of them and got into an argument with him. Later, I saw that man jump off the train just minutes before the blasts.

"I don't know what happened to the other man since I didn't see him. I gave their descriptions to police, on the basis of which their sketches were made," Ali said.

"I am ready for it," said Ali, who owns a departmental store in Faisalabad, when he was asked whether he would record his statement before a magistrate in Panipat.

On Thursday night, police took Ali to the spot where the train caught fire and he also went around the two burnt coaches to help with the investigation. Ali is the only key witness who has told police that he actually heard the blasts and saw a person who jumped off the train just moments before the explosions.

Earlier, Usman Mohammad, who was travelling in a coach adjoining one of the two compartments where the blasts occurred, had recorded his statement before a magistrate.

But police are taking his version with a pinch of salt as he was found drunk in the train after the blasts. Ali's relative Liaqat Ali said they were receiving a number of calls from relatives and friends in Pakistan, asking them whether they had been detained by police.

"We are continously clarifying to them that we have not been detained and we are here in Panipat of our own will," he said.

While seven other injured Pakistanis being treated in Delhi left for their country in a special flight on Thursday, Ali travelled to Panipat with his wife and daughter to identify the bodies of his other children -- Ayesha (15), Bilal (13), Meer Hamza (11), Abdul Rehman (6) and Asma (4).

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Sagar Kulkarni in Panipat
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