Police identify suspected arsonist in Japan's worst mass killing in 18 years

The blaze killed 33 people and another 10 people were in critical condition, in Japan's worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack in Tokyo killed 44 people in 2001. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYOTO (REUTERS) - Japanese police have identified the man suspected to have started a fire at an animation studio that killed 33 people as Shinji Aoba, public broadcaster NHK said on Friday (July 19).

Aoba, who has been in custody since Thursday, the day fire engulfed the studio in the city of Kyoto, has not been arrested, NHK said.

The 41-year-old told 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.

Aoba shouted "Die!" before dousing the entrance to Kyoto Animation headquarters with what appeared to be petrol and setting it ablaze around 10.30am local time (9.30am in Singapore) on Thursday, media reported.

The blaze killed 33 people and another 10 people were in critical condition, the authorities said late on Thursday, in Japan's worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack in Tokyo killed 44 people in 2001.

Police searched through the smouldering shell of the building for clues on Friday.

A man resembling the suspect went to a petrol station on Thursday with two 20-litre cans, Japanese media said.

Two cans, a rucksack and a trolley were found near the site, and television footage showed what appeared to be five long knives laid out on the ground outside the three-storey building.

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

Little else was known about the man, who is under police supervision with serious burns to the face and legs, media reports said.

NHK showed footage of what it said appeared to be the suspect lying on his back on the ground as he spoke to a police officer, shoeless and with what appeared to be burns on his right leg below the knee.

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.

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The studio sits between two train lines close to a stream amid houses and small apartment blocks, a few stores and a taxi company parking area. The area was cordoned off on Friday morning.

A few of the original 30 or so firetrucks remained in the streets but with their lights off. Some firefighters appeared to still be dousing the smouldering building.

Jun Shin, a 30-year-old Chinese man living in nearby Osaka, came to the site on Thursday night to lay 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."

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