Malaysia po­lice ar­rest 7 boys linked to deadly fire

The Record (Troy, NY) - - NATION + WORLD - By Eileen Ng

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA » Malaysian 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, aged 11 to 18, were rounded up since Fri­day night af­ter they were iden­ti­fied in CCTV footage from a neigh­bor­ing build­ing that showed them­n­ear the school the night of the fire.

The pre- dawn blaze Thurs­day at a three- story “tah­fiz” school, where Mus­lim boys study and mem­o­rize the Qu­ran, blocked the lone exit to the dor­mi­tory on the top f loor, trap­ping stu­dents be­hind barred win­dows. Two adults and 21 stu­dents, aged be­tween 6 and 17, 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 tele­vised 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 as neigh­bors watched help­lessly, and later of burned bod­ies hud­dled in cor­ners of the room. Of­fi­cials ini­tially said they sus­pected the fire was caused by an elec­tri­cal short- cir­cuit but later said this wasn’t the case.

The charred bod­ies were re­leased Fri­day to fam­ily mem­bers af­ter be­ing iden­ti­fied through DNA test­ing and buried the same day. Hun­dreds of rel­a­tives and well- wish­ers mourned as bod­ies of 11 boys, wrapped in white shrouds, were low­ered into the graves in a ceme­tery out­side Kuala Lumpur. In an­other ceme­tery near Kuala Lumpur, two sib­lings and their cousin were laid to rest in the same grave while oth­ers were taken to their home­towns. The buri­als were spon­sored and ar­ranged by state Is­lamic author­i­ties.

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. Lo­cal me­dia re­ported there are more than 500 reg­is­tered tah­fiz schools na­tion­wide but many­more are be­lieved to be un­reg­is­tered.

Data from the Fire De­part­ment showed that 1,083 fires struck re­li­gious schools in the past two years, of which 211 were burned to the ground. The worst dis­as­ter oc­curred in 1989 when 27 fe­male stu­dents at an Is­lamic school in Kedah state died when fire gut­ted the school and eight wooden hos­tels.

DANIEL CHAN — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kuala Lumpur po­lice chief Amar Singh holds up the be­long­ings of a de­tained sus­pect dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at Kuala Lumpur po­lice head­quar­ters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Satur­day.

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