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Varanasi attacks: Police release sketches of suspects

Police released sketches made on basis of descriptions given by a shopowner. Major terror attacks in India | Pics | Speak up

india Updated: Mar 10, 2006 16:13 IST

Uttar Pradesh Police on Thursday released sketches of two men suspected to have triggered the twin blasts that killed 15 people, even as they said they had reason to believe Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) - or one of its offshoots - was behind the attacks.

This holy city, meanwhile, was maintaining its communal calm, proving to the world why it is known as hub of spirituality.

The common man in Varanasi, while stunned, has belied apprehensions that Tuesday's explosions at the 16th century Sankat Mochan temple and a railway station would vitiate the atmosphere.

Life was returning to normal on Thursday. The crowds were back on the city's narrow roads and labyrinthine by-lanes.

Faces behind terror in temple town

Shops, hotels and restaurants opened earlier than usual to make up for lost business during Wednesday's strike by some Hindu groups to protest the explosions that also left over 100 people injured.

The bombers' sketches were made on the basis of descriptions given by a
shopowner from outside whose establishment one of the bombs planted on Tuesday was discovered and defused.

The bomb, planted in a pressure cooker, was placed in a bag. Police have also been able to get some clues from the owner of the shop where the bag was purchased.

"It appears the two terrorists spoke broken Hindi with a Kashmiri accent. That gives us reason to suspect they were Kashmiri terrorists," Varanasi police chief Navneet Sikera said at a news conference.

A few hours before Sikera addressed the media, Lashkar-e-Qahab claimed responsibility for the blasts.

A spokesman of the group, who identified himself as Abdullah Jabbar alias Abu Kahar, telephoned a local news agency in Srinagar to claim responsibility for the blasts - and threatened more such attacks.

"We want to inform the people of India that if the atrocities and indiscriminate arrests of Kashmiris don't stop we will not allow them to sleep in peace. We will carry out more such attacks," the spokesman of the group told Current News Service, a Kashmiri news agency.

Sikera was also hopeful of getting on the trail of the bombers on the basis of video clips of a wedding ceremony at the Sankatmochan temple at the time of the blasts.

"We have succeeded in identifying some strangers in the wedding clips. Very soon, we will prepare the sketches of such people to facilitate the identification of the suspects," he said.

"Suspicion was aroused over a bearded man attired as a sadhu and carrying a bag. He is seen lurking around the wedding party so we are trying to get on his trail," Sikera added.

Two members of the wedding party - the priest and the videographer - died in the blast while the bride's father lost an eye.

The bride, who is from Kathmandu, and the bridegroom, who is from Mumbai, were injured in the blast and are recuperating at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) hospital.

According to Sikera, "some suspicious mobile conversations have been tracked through our electronic surveillance system and we are hopeful of getting some clues from them."

Earlier on Thursday, Uttar Pradesh Police chief Yashpal Singh said "the available evidence increasingly points to the involvement" of the Pakistan-backed terrorist outfit Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT) in the blasts.

He maintained there could be a link between the blasts and a LeT terrorist that police gunned down near Lucknow on Wednesday morning.

"The fact that the LeT agent (identified as Salaar) was heading the outfit's operations in Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring states points to his being in Varanasi (at the time of the blasts)," Singh added.

"The fact he was on his way from Varanasi to Lucknow (in a truck) barely hours after the incident gives us reason to believe he must have had something to do with the blasts," the police chief said.