Religious school fire

Malaysian police probing own men in leak of suspects' details

Malaysian police officers manning the gate of a hospital as relatives gather inside the forensics wing, on Sept 14, 2017.
Malaysian police officers manning the gate of a hospital as relatives gather inside the forensics wing, on Sept 14, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysian police have recorded statements from 13 of their own officers to facilitate an investigation into leaked information on the arrest of seven suspects in connection with a fire at a religious school last week.

The leaked information included facts of the case and several photographs of the suspects, which were in circulation on social media before an 8pm press conference by the city police chief on Saturday, Bernama news agency reported.

The New Straits Times yesterday quoted Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun as saying that a police task force will investigate the leak. "I have ordered the city police to form a task force to investigate this matter and identify individuals who leaked the confidential information linked to the case.

"If we find that police officers are involved, we will take action not only at the department level, but also based on criminal offence," Tan Sri Fuzi was quoted as saying.

The early morning fire, which happened last Thursday at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah religious school in Kuala Lumpur, shocked the country as 21 students and two teachers were killed - one of the deadliest blazes in Malaysia.

The police detained seven suspects aged between 11 and 18.

Six of them tested positive for drugs and have been remanded for a week until this Friday, said Bernama.

The leak of the suspects' details was believed to have forced the police to hastily call a news conference on Saturday to reveal that seven suspects had been detained.

Malaysian media on Sunday showed a video clip and screenshot showing a young man climbing a metal gate to gain access into the school in the Datuk Keramat area of KL at 3.10am last Thursday, some two hours before the blaze started on the third floor of the building.

A video recording from a building next to the school is believed to have been used by the police as evidence to detain the seven teens.

The deadly incident has led to questions about fire safety at poorly funded private Islamic schools that have mushroomed across the country, many of which are unregistered with any ministry or town council.

According to estimates by the Federation of National Associations of al-Quran Tahfiz Institutions, about half of the 1,200 private Islamic schools in the country are not registered. Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah is one of them.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has said that the government will allocate RM30 million (S$9.6 million) to upgrade the infrastructure of such schools nationwide.

Now, the detention of the seven young suspects has raised questions about youth delinquency and drug taking.

Police have said that "revenge" was the motive for the fire, following verbal taunts between students at the school and a group of teenagers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Malaysian police probing own men in leak of suspects' details'. Subscribe