Suspected arsonist believed his novel was stolen by Japanese studio - media

By Tim Kelly
1 / 17

Suspected arsonist believed his novel was stolen by Japanese studio - media

Firefighters check the torced Kyoto Animation building in Kyoto

By Tim Kelly

KYOTO, Japan (Reuters) - A man suspected of torching an animation studio and killing 33 people in Japan's worst mass killing in two decades, carried out the attack because he believed his novel had been plagiarized, media said on Friday.

The man wheeled a trolley carrying at least one bucket of petrol to the entrance of the Kyoto Animation building in Kyoto city before dousing the area, shouting "die" and setting it ablaze on Thursday, broadcaster Nippon TV said, citing police.

Police identified the suspected arsonist as Shinji Aoba, who was taken into custody soon after the attack, NHK said, adding that he had not been arrested.

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

Police declined to comment. Broadcaster Nippon TV said the suspect was under anaesthesia because of burns he suffered and police were unable to question him.

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

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

Aoba, a resident of the Tokyo suburb of Saitama, some 480 km (300 miles) east of the ancient capital of Kyoto, 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.

He travelled to the area by train, the broadcaster said.

NHK showed footage of him lying on his back as he spoke to a police officer at the time of his detention, shoeless and with apparent burns on his right leg below the knee.

He had no connection with Kyoto Animation and his driver's licence gave an address in the north Tokyo suburb of Saitama, NHK said.

None of the victims' identities had been disclosed as of Friday. There were 74 people inside the building 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

The building did not have any sprinklers or indoor fire hydrants, though it was not legally required to by the fire code, a Kyoto Fire Department official said.

Nineteen of the 33 who died were found on a staircase leading up to the roof from the third floor, bodies piled on top of each other, Kyodo 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 and found themselves unable to open the door, it added.

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

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

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 outside the three-storey building.

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

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

"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 the scene of the blaze 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.

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."


(Reporting by Tim Kelly in KYOTO and Chang-Ran Kim, Linda Sieg, William Mallard, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies in TOKYO; Writing by William Mallard and David Dolan; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)