Of­fi­cers de­tain 7 boys in dor­mi­tory blaze that killed 23

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Eileen Ng Eileen Ng is an Associated Press writer.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Po­lice said Satur­day they have ar­rested seven boys sus­pected of in­ten­tion­ally start­ing a fire at an Is­lamic board­ing school that killed 23 peo­ple be­cause stu­dents there had teased them.

Kuala Lumpur po­lice chief Amar Singh said the boys, ages 11 to 18, were rounded up since Fri­day night af­ter they were iden­ti­fied in CCTV footage from a neigh­bor­ing build­ing that showed them near the school the night of the fire.

The predawn blaze Thurs­day at a three-story tah­fiz school, where Mus­lim boys study and mem­o­rize the Qu­ran, blocked the lone exit to a dor­mi­tory on the top floor, trap­ping stu­dents be­hind barred win­dows. Two adults and 21 stu­dents, be­tween 6 and 17 years old, were killed.

“From our in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the mo­tive be­hind the mis­chief was due to a mis­un­der­stand­ing af­ter the sus­pects and some

tah­fiz stu­dents mocked each other a few days be­fore the fire,” Singh said at a news con­fer­ence.

Singh said six of the seven sus­pects tested pos­i­tive for drugs. Two of them had been de­tained be­fore, one on charges of ve­hi­cle theft, an­other for ri­ot­ing, he said.

He said it is be­lieved that two cook­ing gas tanks were brought up to the top floor and used to start the fire, which spread rapidly and took fire­fight­ers an hour to ex­tin­guish.

Singh said the seven are all school dropouts and will be un­der po­lice re­mand for a week. He said the case has been clas­si­fied as mur­der and mis­chief by fire.

Singh said the school is also be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for flout­ing build­ing safety rules.

Of­fi­cials have said the school was op­er­at­ing with­out a fire safety per­mit and li­cense, and that a di­vid­ing wall was il­le­gally built on the top floor that blocked the vic­tims from a se­cond exit.

Fire­fight­ers and wit­nesses have de­scribed scenes of horror — first of boys scream­ing for help be­hind barred win­dows, and later of burned bod­ies hud­dled in cor­ners of the room.

The charred bod­ies were re­leased Fri­day to fam­ily mem­bers af­ter be­ing iden­ti­fied through DNA test­ing and buried the same day.

The fire has re­newed calls for bet­ter reg­u­la­tion of re­li­gious schools, mostly pri­vately run and not su­per­vised by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry be­cause they come un­der the purview of state re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties.

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