Seven minors arrested over deadly school fire in Malaysia | News | DW | 16.09.2017
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Seven minors arrested over deadly school fire in Malaysia

Police in Kuala Lumpur have detained seven young boys on suspicion of starting a fire that claimed 25 lives in an Islamic school dormitory. None of the suspects have attended the school.

Amar Singh and police officers hold up evidence bags in Kuala Lumpur (picture-alliance/Zumapress/C. V. Chung)

Police chief Amar Singh (center) and his police officers display evidence gathered from the suspects

The suspects were recorded by CCTV on the night of the deadly fire, Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh said on Saturday.  The youths were aged between 11 and 18, he told reporters.

"I can assure you the case is solved with the arrest of seven of them," Singh added.

Police obtained the footage from a building near the Islamic school Darul Quran Ittifaqiya in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian public was shocked by the blaze, which killed two teachers and 23 pupils on Thursday. Officials initially speculated that the fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit.

Police officers, emergency workers and onlookers gathered in front of the school (picture-alliance/AP Photo)

The Thursday fire was the worst since 1989, when 27 girls died in a different Islamic school

The specialized Islamic institution is just one of many so-called "tahfiz" boarding schools in Malaysia, where children are sent to memorize the Quran.

Trapped by gas canisters

Authorities said that all seven suspects were dropouts who had never attended Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah. However, the group was on bad footing with the boys from the school.

"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 during the televised news conference.

The minors allegedly used cooking gas tanks to start the fire in the dormitory. The group positioned the burning containers in front of the only exit to the building, trapping the victims inside. The windows were blocked by security grills.

Safety hazard in Islamic schools

While the suspects aimed "to cause a fire," it is possible they had no intention to kill anyone, said Singh. The minors could still face murder charges.

The blaze prompted fresh calls to enforce safety standards in tahfiz schools, which are not regulated by the Educational Ministry. The Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah was operating without a fire safety permit and license, experts said. During the fire, the victims were blocked from the second exit by an illegally build dividing wall.

Data from the Fire Department notes 1,083 fires in religious schools during the past two years. Officials say 211 of those schools were burned to the ground.

dj/kl (AFP, dpa, AP)

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