Suspected arsonist believed his novel was stolen by Japanese studio: Report

Reuters Kyoto, Japan Jul 19, 2019, 02.34 PM(IST)

An aerial view shows smoke and flame rise from the three-story Kyoto Animation building which was torched in Kyoto, western Japan. Photograph:( Reuters )

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The 41-year-old told the police, 'I did it,' when he was detained, adding he had started the fire because he believed the studio had stolen his novel.

A man suspected of torching an animation studio in Japan, killing 33 people in the country's worst mass killing in two decades, planned the attack because he believed his novel had been plagiarised, media said on Friday.

The unidentified man shouted "Die!" before dousing the entrance to Kyoto Animation's studio building with what appeared to be petrol and setting it ablaze around 10:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) on Thursday, media said.

The 41-year-old told the police, "I did it," when he was detained, adding he had started the fire because he believed the studio had stolen his novel, Kyodo news said, citing investigative sources.

Kyoto police declined to comment. Broadcaster Nippon TV said he was under anaesthesia after burning himself and police were unable to question him.

He "seemed to be discontented, he seemed to get angry, shouting something about how he had been plagiarised", a woman who saw the suspect being detained told reporters.

The explosive blaze killed 33 people and 10 more were in critical condition, authorities said late on Thursday. It marks the worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack in Tokyo killed 44 in 2001.

A resident of the Tokyo suburb of Saitama, some 480 km (300 miles) east of the ancient capital of Kyoto, the man was believed to have bought two 20 litre gasoline cans at a hardware store and prepared the petrol in a park near the studio, Nippon TV said, citing police.

He came to the area on train, the broadcaster said. Public broadcaster NHK showed footage of what it said appeared to be the man lying on his back as he spoke to a police officer, shoeless and with apparent burns on his right leg below the knee.

The man had no connection with Kyoto Animation and his driver's licence gave an address in Saitama, a northern suburb of Tokyo, NHK said.

None of the victims' identities had been disclosed as of Friday. There were 74 people inside when the fire started, Kyodo said.

"I imagine many of the people who died were in their twenties," said 71-year-old Kozo Tsujii, fighting back tears after laying flowers near the studio in the rain on Friday morning. He said he drives by the studio on his daily commute.

"I'm just very, very sad that these people who are so much younger than me passed away so prematurely," he said.

Bodies piled up

Nineteen of the 33 who died had been found on the staircase leading up to the roof from the third floor, bodies piled on top of others, Kyodo news agency said, citing authorities.

Firefighters arriving soon after the fire began found the door to the roof was shut but could be opened from the outside, Kyodo said.

The victims may have rushed up the stairs to escape the blaze on the lower floors and found themselves unable to open the door, it added.

The fire wasn't put out until early on Friday morning.

Police investigators searched the smouldering shell of the building for evidence in an investigation that Kyodo said covered suspected arson, murder and attempted murder.

"I love fighting games, all things about Japan," said Blake Henderson, a 26-year-old Alabama native and fan of the anime studio who had come to pay his respects.

"I love Japan so much and this one incident won't change my entire perspective on Japan, but it still hurts," he said.

Petrol cans

Two petrol cans, a rucksack and a trolley were found near the site, and television images showed what appeared to be five long knives laid out by police as possible evidence on the ground outside the three-storey building.

Kyoto Animation, located in a quiet suburb about 20 minutes by train from the centre of Japan's ancient capital, produces popular "anime" series such as the "Sound! Euphonium".

Its "Free! Road to the World - The Dream" movie is due for release this month.

Jun Shin, a 30-year-old Chinese man living in nearby Osaka, visited the site on Thursday night to place flowers near the burnt-out office and say a prayer.

"I am an anime fan," Jun, an information technology worker, told Reuters. "I have watched animation since I was a student, and this was a terrible event, I just want to come and mourn. It left me speechless."