AN INDIAN restaurant chef is being hunted after his estranged wife was stabbed with an eight-inch knife possibly after a row over a failed reconciliation.

Student Nazia Ahmed, 23, was stabbed to death and her 20-year-old sister Shazia was left critically injured during an attack at their home in Shear Bank Road, Blackburn.

Zameer Ahmed, who works at his wife's family's restaurant, the Shahi Qila, also on Shear Bank Road, and who lives in the same street as the women's family, has been missing since the killing, at 1.30pm on Saturday.

Today it was revealed the 26-year-old murder suspect had moved to the UK from Pakistan after the couple's arranged marriage in 2002.

The couple split soon afterwards but police are investigating whether a failed reconciliation prompted the attack.

Officers found the weapon used in the attack a kitchen knife close to the scene and said the assailant would have been covered in blood following the savage assault.

Nazia's "totally devastated" family made an emotional plea for information.

Nazia's brother Waseem, who had left for a trip to Pakistan after a family party just before the attack, has flown home after being told of his sister's death by his grandparents when his plane landed in Gujurat.

The attack happened in the three-storey townhouse where Mrs Ahmed and members of her family lived.

Both sisters were taken to Blackburn Royal Infirmary where the elder sister died of her injuries.

Yesterday relatives of Mrs Ahmed, who is thought to have worked at a post office owned by her family in Preston New Road, were being comforted by scores of visitors at a nearby family home.

Mrs Ahmed's father, Bashir, is a prominent Blackburn businessman.

A statement from the family said: "We are a very close and loving family and we have lost a much-loved daughter and sister in the most tragic of circumstances and another lies seriously injured in hospital.

"We are totally devastated and ask that our privacy and need to grieve in peace be respected.

"If anyone has any information which will assist the police in their enquiries, it is the wish of this family that they come forward."

Detectives were waiting to speak to Shazia in hospital today.

The scene of the attack was still cordoned off with police tape.

Neighbours in the leafy street, home to some of Blackburn's grandest houses, said they were shocked at the news.

Francis Apaloo, 64, said: "It is horrible, I feel so much for the family.

"We don't expect this sort of thing to happen to your next door neighbour.

"This is a nice area, one of the nicest areas in Blackburn."

Mr Apaloo said he was at home when the attack happened but did not hear or see anything suspicious.

He said: "I was in the house all day but I had no idea what had happened.

"I didn't know it was that serious on the day. I was told it was a serious crime but I thought it was just some young people who had got themselves into trouble.

"It was only the next morning that I found out a young girl had been stabbed and it was just a shock I was filled with horror."

Tamiur Gall, 24, said he had only just arrived in Blackburn to stay two doors down when the murder happened.

He said: "I was very shocked when I was told the news.

"I came here a few days ago so I don't know much about them. It is a big shock."

Most of the family is believed to have taken Waseem, one of two brothers, to Manchester Airport and were only told of the incident at about 4pm.

A spokeswoman for Blackburn police, whose investigation is being led by Det Supt Mick Gradwell, said: "Police in Blackburn are hunting for a man they believe is responsible for stabbing two women in the town.

"Those women were taken to Blackburn Royal Infirmary where, sadly, the 23-year-old woman died from her injuries some time later."

She said Mr Ahmed was the "estranged husband of the woman who died as a result of the stab injuries she received during the attack".

She described Ahmed as 5ft 10ins, slim to medium build with a short beard with thick, swept back black hair and wearing "browny green" jeans.

She said: "Police believe his clothing will be heavily blood stained."

The condition of Mrs Ahmed's younger sister was described as "serious but stable."

The spokeswoman added: "Detectives don't believe that Zameer Ahmed poses a threat to the general public but would ask that if anyone knows his whereabouts or sees him that they don't approach him but contact Blackburn police immediately."

Anyone with information should call Blackburn police on 01254 51212.

All information with be treated in confidence, a police spokeswoman said.