Malaysia: 7 Teens Arrested for Arson in Deadly School Fire

Fadzil Aziz and N. Nantha
Kuala Lumpur
170916_MY_FIRE_PRESSCONF_620.jpg Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Amar Singh Ishar Singh addresses a press conference on the arrests of arson suspects in an Islamic school fire that killed 23, Sept. 16, 2017.
Fadzil Aziz/BenarNews

Seven boys deliberately set a fire at an Islamic school in Kuala Lumpur that killed 23 people trapped in a third-floor dormitory, Malaysian police said Saturday as they announced their arrests.

The boys aged 11 to 18 live near Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah School and had been involved in a “misunderstanding” with students there, police said.

Six of the suspects tested positive for cannabis and “we believe they were high when committing the crime,” Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Amar Singh Ishar Singh told a press conference.

“From the arrests, we believe we have solved the case,” he told journalists at Kuala Lumpur police headquarters.

The boys, allegedly caught on CCTV recordings loitering outside the school, were being investigated for murder and “mischief by fire” under the Malaysian penal code, he said.

The school located about a 15-minute drive from the iconic Kuala Lumpur Twin Towers is classified as a “tahfiz” center where students learn to memorize the Quran. It housed 36 students and six teachers but did not have a fire security permit and occupational certificate.

The 23 mostly charred bodies were found in the dormitory situated on the top floor after it burned in the early hours of Thursday.

The victims, students aged between 8 and 16 years, and two school staff, 25 and 26, were trapped behind barred windows and a locked door, officials said. Witnesses told reporters they were woken by cries for help from inside the burning building.

The dead were buried on Friday.

Students who survived the blaze have been placed in an undisclosed temporary shelter, schools headmaster Muhammad Zahid Mahmod told journalists Saturday.


Firefighters said they found the bodies piled on top of each other, indicating that the victims tried to flee but were trapped by metal window grills.

“From our investigations, we believe it was due to taunting between the suspects and several of the tahfiz students a few days before the fire,” Amar said.

“Two of the boys also have police records, for rioting and vehicle theft,” he said, adding that the suspects were not from the school but lived in the vicinity.

Amar said police also seized clothes, helmets and a motorcycle from the suspects and hoped to complete the investigations soon and submit results to the Attorney General Chambers.

“They were the ones who brought the two gas cylinders from the ground floor and petrol was used to accelerate the burning. Their intention was to burn down the tahfiz school,” he said.

“Probably [due to] their age and maturity, they didn’t know their intention for arson would result in killing people,” Amar added.

The Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah School has been operating for 16 years without an official permit, officials said, as the government said it would set up a task force to look into the safety of similar schools across the predominantly Muslim country.

On Saturday, a six-man task force set up to probe fire incidents at religious schools inspected the site and left without speaking to the media.

The Star newspaper said there were 519 private tahfiz schools registered nationwide as of April, but many more are believed to be unregistered. More than 200 fires are said to have been recorded nationwide at private religious schools over the last two years.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Thursday said the committee role is to look into the safety aspects of private religious schools which he said were reluctant to register with the authorities for fear that the government would interfere with their curriculum.

Hata Wahari contributed to this report.

Relatives attend burials of victims of the school fire at Raudhatul Sakinah Muslim burial ground in Kuala Lumpur, Sept 15, 2017.
Relatives attend burials of victims of the school fire at Raudhatul Sakinah Muslim burial ground in Kuala Lumpur, Sept 15, 2017.
Fadzil Aziz/BenarNews


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