Syrian toddler Aylan's father drove capsized boat, other passengers say

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The father of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi was working with smugglers and driving the flimsy boat that capsized trying to reach Greece, other passengers on board said, in an account that disputes the version he gave last week.

Ahmed Hadi Jawwad and his wife, Iraqis who lost their 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son in the crossing, told Reuters that Abdullah Kurdi panicked and accelerated when a wave hit the boat, raising questions about his claim that somebody else was driving the boat.

A third passenger confirmed their version of events, which Reuters could not independently verify.

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Aylan Kurdi, Syrian migrant boy who drowned
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Syrian toddler Aylan's father drove capsized boat, other passengers say
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A migrant child's dead body lies on the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank while reaching the Greek island of Kos. Thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in Athens on September 2, as Greek ministers held talks on the crisis, with Europe struggling to cope with the huge influx fleeing war and repression in the Middle East and Africa. AFP PHOTO / Nilufer Demir / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY (Photo credit should read Nilufer Demir/AFP/Getty Images)
Men load onto a funeral vehicle the coffins of migrants and three-year old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach after a boat carrying refugees sank as it crossed to the Greek island of Kos, at the morgue in Mugla, southern Turkey, on September 3, 2015. The father of a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach, an image that shocked the world, said on September 3 his children 'slipped through my hands' as their boat was taking in water en route to Greece. Abdullah, whose surname is given by Turkish media as Kurdi but sources in Syria say is actually called Shenu, lost his three-year-old son Aylan, four-year-old son Ghaleb and wife Rihana in the tragedy. AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
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"The story that (Aylan's father) told is untrue. I don't know what made him lie, maybe fear," Jawwad said in Baghdad at his in-laws' house on Friday. "He was the driver from the very beginning until the boat sank."

He said Kurdi swam to them and begged them to cover up his true role in the incident. His wife confirmed the details.

Jawwad said his point of contact with the smugglers was called Abu Hussein. "Abu Hussein told me that he (Kurdi) was the one who organized this trip," he said.

Reuters tried several times to speak to Kurdi by telephone from the Syrian city of Kobane but was unable to reach him. Abu Hussein also could not be reached.

However, Kurdi told Britain's MailOnline that the accusations were untrue.

"I thought about driving the boat but I didn't do it. That is all lies," he said.

"This is not true. If I was a people smuggler, why would I put my family in the same boat as the other people? I paid the same amount to the people smugglers," he told the newspaper.

In comments to Kurdish news outlet Rudaw this week, Kurdi blamed a Turkish smuggler but did not name him.

Amir Haider, 22, another Iraqi who said he was on the same boat, confirmed Jawwad's account and identified Kurdi as the driver. He told Reuters by telephone from Istanbul that he initially thought Kurdi was Turkish because he was not speaking, but later heard him talking to his wife in Syrian Arabic.

A photo of Aylan Kurdi's body in the surf off a popular Turkish holiday resort prompted sympathy and outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping thousands of refugees using dangerous sea-routes to reach Europe, many of whom have fled Syria's four-year civil war.

(Reporting by Saif Hameed; Writing by Stephen Kalin; editing by Anna Willard)

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