Dozens killed in Japan building fire, arson suspected

NHK broadcaster says police suspect an arson attack after at least 24 people died in a fire in western Osaka.

Firefighters are seen at a building where a fire broke out in Osaka, western Japan December 17, 2021 in this photo taken by Kyodo [Kyodo/via Reuters]

At least 24 people have been killed after a fire swept through a mental health clinic in a commercial building in western Japan.

The NHK broadcaster said the blaze broke out on the fourth floor of an office building in a busy district of Osaka at approximately 10am (01:00 GMT) on Friday.

Police investigating the fire suspect it was caused by arson, it said.

Citing people close to the probe, the broadcaster added that man who looked in his 60s was seen carrying a bag that was leaking liquid into the clinic’s reception area before the fire started.

The blaze was largely extinguished within 30 minutes.

One witness told the Kyodo news agency she saw “orange flames in the fourth-floor window” of the building and a woman “waving her hands for help from the sixth-floor window”.

The building is located in a shopping and entertainment district not far from Osaka’s main train station, and also houses a beauty salon, a clothing shop and an English-language school.

By evening most of the fire trucks were gone and the burned-out, broken windows were covered with blue tarpaulin.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offered his “sincere condolences” and said authorities were working to determine the cause.

“We must get to the bottom of this horrible case. We must clarify the cause and how it happened. And we must take measures to prevent the same thing from happening again,” he said.

The father of a doctor who ran the clinic was unable to reach him by mobile phone, he told the Yomiuri newspaper. “Around noon I heard there was news of a fire on television and was surprised. My wife went to the site but we still don’t know what’s going on. I can’t get through to my son’s phone,” he said.

Earlier on Friday, an Osaka fire department official said they feared 27 of the 28 people injured in the blaze had died.

In Japan, only a doctor can officially certify someone dead.

One year ago, a man was charged with murder over a 2019 arson attack on a Kyoto animation studio that killed 36 people, the country’s deadliest violent crime in decades.

The attack sent shockwaves through the anime industry and its fans in Japan and around the world.

A 2008 arson attack on a video shop in Osaka killed 16 people. The attacker is now on death row.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies