`Suspects conducted a dry run'

MUMBAI AUG. 26. The Mumbai police are questioning Shiv Narayan Pande, a 55-year old taxi driver, who ferried the suspects to the blast site near the Gateway of India (and the Taj Mahal hotel) here on Monday. The taxi, in which the bomb was kept, went off in a parking bay there.

Police, however, appear to be less informed about the manner in which another taxi that blew up in Zaveri Bazar soon after the Gateway of India explosion because the driver of that vehicle is dead. But a little earlier, one of the passengers in that taxi had alighted en route and was heard talking over a cell phone at the Dhanji Street junction. Someone in the area, who overheard the conversation — "that things were moving well" — is being questioned by police.

Pande, who reported to police voluntarily after the blast that reduced his taxi to scrap, told them all about the strangers — where they boarded his vehicle (Mh-02-R-2007), what they paid him, how they left behind a bag (containing the explosives) and how they asked him to wait till they returned.

Pande told police that his taxi had been hired for a dry run on Sunday on the pretext of sight-seeing and the passengers — two men, a woman and a child — came to the Gateway of India. Apparently after surveying the scene, they asked Pande to pick them up the next day. On Monday, they asked him to park the vehicle in a parking bay near the monument (taxis are not normally allowed to be parked there) and wait. They had left the bag in the boot of the vehicle and it did not seem odd to Pande as they had promised to come back after lunch. Police sources suspect that they might have entered the Taj lobby and left through another door farther away.

It seems that one of the two men had got down from the taxi a couple of kilometres en route and Pande had overheard one of them talking about "going to Pune". Hence police have sent a team to that town.

The passengers, Pande told police, had boarded the taxi at a slum colony in suburban Andheri known as Juhu Galli with a bag.

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