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Loose ends, riot past stall clean chit
- THE HUMAN FACTOR: The last-mile link, the faceless victim and the heroes

Ayodhya, July 6: Rehan Khan is the last-mile link between the attackers and Ayodhya but police can’t decide yet whether he was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A few inconsistencies in the statement given by Rehan, who drove the militants to Ayodhya from nearby Faizabad and whose jeep was blown up, and his traumatic past are keeping the investigators from giving him a quick clean chit.

The 40-year-old father of two has repeatedly told his interrogators how a group of passengers offering Rs 1,300 on a rain-swept morning is considered a godsend during the July off-season. Few jeep operators would have turned them away, a sobbing Rehan said this morning at Ayodhya police station.

But a throwaway sentence that he had gone to a petrol “shop” for fuel soon after meeting his would-be passengers has made the police suspicious. Rehan’s jeep runs on diesel, not petrol. He still has not given a satisfactory answer to why he went to the outlet which sells only petrol, the police said.

Another inconsistency has been the number of passengers. Rehan, who has been taken to the blast site twice by the police, had initially said there were four passengers. Later, he said there were five ' the number of militants who died in the shootout.

The initial discrepancy could have been because of shock, the investigators concede, but it has added to the factors weighing against him. Rehan has not been arrested yet ' he is now under “detention”.

But the biggest factor working against Rehan in the eyes of the investigators is fraught with irony: the son of an ex-serviceman, Rehan is a victim of the post-demolition Ayodhya riots in 1992.

Rehan hails from Qaziana, a neighbourhood that was burnt down during the riots. The colony, 2 km from the disputed site, now is full of new houses ' all built again with rehabilitation loans given by the government.

The shelters have been rebuilt but some wounds still hurt. Old-timers recalled how a 45-year-old woman who could not flee was murdered and her body thrown in a jungle.

The police are now trying to find out whether the militants had tried to take advantage of the simmering anger and were in touch with anyone there. But Rehan’s relatives dismissed the possibility of any link with the militants, saying it was mere coincidence.

They said Rehan was at the wheel yesterday as the regular driver ' “one Thakur” ' did not turn up for duty. “He is a god-fearing person and he focused only on his business,” his uncle Syed Tahir Ahmed said.

“Rehan has been picked up by the police but we are not being allowed to talk to him,” another relative said. “Look at the family. His wife is sick. He has a decent family. Why should he let his vehicle be used by militants'”

But the police said they cannot let him go until the “loose ends are tied”. “We are still finding out how many other vehicles were at the stand and why his jeep was chosen,” an officer said.

“Rehan is a crucial witness. There are some inconsistencies,” said director general of police Yashpal Singh, who visited Ayodhya this morning.

Driver detained

The police have also detained the driver of the car in which the gang had travelled from Akbarpur to Faizabad. But the man, Rajkumar, hasn’t been of much help.

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