WAS IT ARSON?
Investigators have reason to believe foul play may have been at work
AS the victims of the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school fire were buried yesterday, thousands turned up to mourn their deaths. And, a nation mourned with them.
Though the dead can now rest in peace, the authorities will not. They will move on to the next phase, so to speak — investigating the cause of a tragic incident in which lives were senselessly lost.
And, while Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said police investigators had classified the case as “sudden death”, it appears that this may be a temporary status.
The NST has learnt that investigators — both from the police and Fire and Rescue Department — have reason to believe foul play may have been at work.
The key to this would be the presence of two gas cylinders outside the door to the dormitory on the second floor where the victims, and those who survived the raging inferno, had been sleeping, an anomaly as the kitchen is on the ground floor.
While fire investigators were working to establish the point of origin of the fire, what started it and what caused it to spread so quickly, police investigators, the NST has learnt, will pore over footage from several closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras nearby, including that of the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia, whose building is located right next to the school.
Police sources said the footage may point to an “intrusion” into the school compound at 3am, a few hours before the fire started.
The conclusion of investigations, however, may be a long way off. What mattered most yesterday to the families of those killed in the fire on Thursday, was the identification and recovery of their loved ones’ remains from the Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) mortuary.
Family members had provided DNA samples the day before and were back at the mortuary early yesterday morning, having been told the identification process would be fast-tracked.
By mid-morning yesterday, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said all 23 victims had been identified. Then began the painful and arduous task of viewing the charred remains.
The next of kin were called in, one family at a time. They were told they could view the bodies, but were advised against it.
If the family insisted on viewing the bodies of their loved ones, they were first shown pictures on a laptop computer. If they still insisted on seeing the bodies — and some steeled themselves to the task — then they were allowed to do so. Minutes after Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom arrived at the mortuary yesterday, the first of the bodies, believed to be that of one of the two teachers killed in the fire, was brought out and placed reverently in a hearse.
Shortly after that hearse moved off, a second body was placed in another hearse. The sad procession of hearses kept on coming, their precious cargoes taken to the HKL surau where the jenazah prayers were performed.
As each prayer was completed, the remains were again placed in hearses to be transported to the various cemeteries — in the Klang Valley, Perak, Kedah, Kelantan and Negri Sembilan — where they would be buried.
A livid Zahid had said that the suggestions and recommendations submitted by the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) set up to investigate the fire that killed 27 students of Sekolah Agama Rakyat Taufikiah Khairiah Al-Halimiah, also known as Pondok Pak Ya, in Yan, Kedah, in 1989 was not implemented.
He said the special task force formed to investigate the fire at Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah would revisit all suggestions and recommendations by the RCI on safety requirements for religious schools.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan had said his ministry was registering tahfiz and religious schools.
Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V (right) listening to a briefing during his visit to the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school in Kampung Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday. With him are Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.