School fire sus­pects held

Bangkok Post - - ASEAN -

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian po­lice have ar­rested seven sus­pects ac­cused of in­ten­tion­ally start­ing a fire that killed 23 chil­dren and teach­ers at an Is­lamic school.

The male sus­pects, aged 11 to 18, were de­tained on Sat­ur­day close to the board­ing school in Kuala Lumpur, said the cap­i­tal’s po­lice chief Amar Singh.

It is be­lieved the sus­pects and the boys in the school had a dis­agree­ment, and those de­tained started the fire at the top-floor dor­mi­tory early o Thurs­day us­ing gas can­is­ters, he said.

“There was teas­ing be­tween this group and the re­li­gious school stu­dents,” Mr Singh told a press con­fer­ence, with­out giv­ing fur­ther de­tails.

He said the sus­pects’ “in­ten­tion was to cause a fire”, adding they could face mur­der charges.

Six of the seven sus­pects had tested pos­i­tive for us­ing mar­i­juana, he said.

The fire — the coun­try’s most deadly school blaze for more than two decades — killed 21 school­boys, aged six to 16, and two teach­ers.

The vic­tims were left scream­ing help­lessly as the in­ferno en­gulfed the dor­mi­tory be­cause the only exit was blocked by the blaze and the win­dows were barred with se­cu­rity grilles.

The dead were buried late on Fri­day af­ter a lengthy process to iden­tify their badly burnt re­mains us­ing DNA tests.

Po­lice ini­tially sus­pected the fire was an ac­ci­dent caused by an elec­tri­cal short cir­cuit or a mos­quito-re­pelling de­vice but later shifted the fo­cus of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion to foul play.

Sur­vivors said they had seen two gas can­is­ters ablaze, block­ing the only door to the dor­mi­tory.

Mr Singh said the can­is­ters were be­lieved to have been taken from the kitchen to the build­ing’s top floor, and a sub­stance was used to make the fire spread quickly.

Po­lice used CCTV to help track down the sus­pects and they had been re­manded in cus­tody, he added.

The blaze fo­cused at­ten­tion on re­li­gious schools in Malaysia, where many Mus­lims send their chil­dren to study the Ko­ran but which are not reg­u­lated by ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties and have faced crit­i­cism for be­ing un­safe.

The school in­volved in Thurs­day’s fire, known as a tah­fiz, did not have the nec­es­sary op­er­at­ing li­cences, in­clud­ing a fire safety per­mit.

About 60% of Malaysia’s pop­u­la­tion of more than 30 mil­lion peo­ple are Mus­lim Malays, and the coun­try is also home to sub­stan­tial pop­u­la­tion of eth­nic and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties.

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