Osaka suspect of arson identified, buildings to be verified | World news

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) – Japanese police on Sunday identified a 61-year-old man as the prime suspect behind a fire that engulfed a psychiatric clinic in an eight-story apartment building where he was a patient, killing 24 people trapped there.

The government has also announced plans to inspect tens of thousands of similar buildings across the country. Authorities believe the death toll in the downtown Osaka apartment building on Friday was largely due to the fire rendering its only fire escape unusable.

Osaka Police, who are investigating the arson and murder case, identified the man as Morio Tanimoto. He is being treated in serious condition after being rescued from the blaze, police said. He has not been formally arrested or charged.

After checking security cameras and searching his home, police said they suspected Tanimoto of setting the psychiatric clinic on fire, an official with the prefecture police investigation department told The Associated Press. on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. .

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Kyodo News said Tanimoto was a retired metalworker. His former employer at the factory where he worked from 2002 to 2010 described him as being diligent and knowledgeable. He quit without saying what he was up to, he said. Tanimoto trained at his father’s sheet metal factory in Osaka after graduating from high school, but left after his brother took over the company and continued to change jobs, Kyodo said.

Some of his neighbors interviewed by local media described him as a gray-haired man who rode a bicycle and barely spoke.

The “Nishi Umeda Clinic for Mind and Body” was located on the fourth floor of an eight-story building in Osaka’s bustling Kitashinchi business district, and was known for its support for mental health in the workplace.

Police raided Tanimoto’s home on Saturday and found the clinic’s patient card.

Authorities are investigating how smoke filled the ground so quickly that the victims were trapped. The blaze that burned just 25 square meters (270 square feet) off the ground near reception was extinguished for the most part within 30 minutes.

Interior and Communications Minister Yasushi Kaneko, who is also in charge of fire and disaster management, said on Sunday that he had ordered a nationwide inspection of around 30,000 commercial buildings with three or more floors. but only one staircase.

Kaneko said many victims could not escape and died because the only staircase in the Osaka building was not accessible due to the fire and they lost their way. He said the ministry will set up an expert group to discuss security measures.

Police cited witnesses who saw a man entering the clinic with a paper bag, which he put on the floor, right next to a radiator near the reception, and kicked him. Liquid spilled out, caught fire, and the whole ground was ablaze and smoky.

A clinic security camera captured the scene, in which the man is seen standing at the entrance as if blocking the way, NHK TV said.

Witnesses and the investigation suggested the victims gasped and struggled to exit the clinic. Most collapsed as they made their way to the other end of the clinic, finding no way out.

The clinic with no external stairs had several compartments for consultations and workshops along a single aisle, with the main consultation room at the back of the floor. There have been no prior violations of fire codes in the building, officials said.

Two visitors who witnessed the start of the fire at reception were able to run out.

Firefighters first found 27 people in cardiac arrest, including three who were resuscitated, officials said. A fourth survivor was shot down by an aerial ladder from a sixth-story window with a minor wound.

Some of the clinic’s clients who spoke to Japanese media said the clinic was popular and was always crowded with up to 20 people waiting, especially on Fridays when special counseling and programs were available for those. who were preparing to return to work after sick leave.

The clinic’s psychiatrist, Kotaro Nishizawa, could not be reached since the fire.

Over the weekend, Osaka residents brought flowers, bottled water and canned drinks as an offering to the spirits of the deceased outside the building.

The fire was a shocking reminder of the 2019 attack on Kyoto Animation studio, where an attacker broke in and set it on fire, killing 36 people and injuring more than 30 others. The incident shocked Japan and sparked a wave of grief among anime fans around the world. In 2001, an intentionally set fire in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people – the worst case of arson in the country in modern times.

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