Wednesday 21 August 2019

'I did it' - blaze suspect held

Angry novelist started film studio fire that killed 33, reports claim

Shock: Women pray outside the Kyoto Animation building which was torched in an arson attack. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Shock: Women pray outside the Kyoto Animation building which was torched in an arson attack. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Tim Kelly

A man suspected of torching an animation studio and killing 33 people in Japan's worst mass killing in two decades carried out the attack because he believed his novel had been plagiarised, according to reports yesterday.

The man wheeled a trolley carrying at least one bucket of petrol to the entrance of the Kyoto Animation building before dousing the area, shouting "die" and setting it ablaze on Thursday, Nippon TV said.

Police identified the suspected arsonist as Shinji Aoba, who was taken into custody soon after the attack, national broadcaster NHK said, adding he had not been arrested.

"I did it," the 41-year-old told police when he was detained, Kyodo news said, adding he had started the fire because he believed the studio had stolen his novel.

Police declined to comment. Nippon TV said the suspect was under anaesthesia because of burns he suffered and police were unable to question him.

He "seemed to be discontented, he seemed to get angry, shouting something about how he had been plagiarised", said a woman who saw the man being detained.

The explosive fire killed 33 people and 10 more were in critical condition, authorities said. It marks the worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack in Tokyo killed 44 people in 2001.

Mr Aoba, a resident of the Tokyo suburb of Saitama, some 480km east of the ancient capital of Kyoto, was believed to have bought two 20-litre petrol cans at a hardware store and prepared the petrol in a park near the studio, Nippon TV said. He had then travelled to the area by train.

NHK showed footage of him lying on his back as he spoke to a police officer at the time of his detention, shoeless and with apparent burns on his right leg below the knee. He had no connection with Kyoto Animation.

None of the victims' names had been disclosed yesterday. There were 74 people inside the building when the fire started, Kyodo said.

"I imagine many of the people who died were in their 20s," said 71-year-old Kozo Tsujii, fighting back tears after laying flowers near the studio in the rain. He said he drives by the studio on his daily commute.

"I'm just very, very sad that these people who are so much younger than me passed away so prematurely," he said.

The building did not have any sprinklers or indoor fire hydrants, though it was not legally required to, a fire department official said.

Nineteen of the 33 who died were found on a staircase leading up to the roof from the third floor, bodies piled on top of each other, Kyodo said. Firefighters arriving soon after the blaze began found the door to the roof was shut but could be opened from the outside, Kyodo said.

The victims may have rushed up the stairs to escape the flames and found themselves unable to open the door, it added.

The fire wasn't put out until early yesterday.

Police searched the smouldering shell of the building for evidence in an investigation that Kyodo said covered suspected arson, murder and attempted murder.

Two petrol cans, a rucksack and a trolley were found near the site, and television images showed what appeared to be five long knives laid out by police as possible evidence outside the three-storey building.

Kyoto Animation, in a quiet suburb about 20 minutes by train from the centre of Kyoto, produces popular 'animé' series such as the 'Sound! Euphonium'.

Its 'Free! Road to the World - The Dream' movie is due for release this month.

"I love fighting games, all things about Japan," said Blake Henderson, a 26-year-old Alabama native and fan of the animé studio who had come to the scene of the blaze pay his respects.

"I love Japan so much and this one incident won't change my entire perspective on Japan, but it still hurts."

Irish Independent

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