Japanese animation studio fire suspect named by police

A woman prays at a makeshift memorial to the victims of Thursday’s fire at the Kyoto Animation Studio Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP

Japanese police have named a man suspected of starting a fire that killed 34 people in an animation studio.

Witness accounts suggest Shinji Aoba, 41, had a grudge against Kyoto Animation but police only said the suspect, who has severe burns and is unable to talk, is from near Tokyo and did not work for the studio.

Japanese broadcaster NHK and other media said Aoba spent three-and-a-half years in prison for robbing a convenience store in 2012 and lived on government support.

Aoba told police that he set the fire because he thought “(Kyoto Animation) stole novels,” according to Japanese media.

Japanese broadcaster NHK said the death toll rose to 34 on Saturday after one of the injured died in a hospital.

The company founded in 1981 and better known as KyoAni made a mega-hit anime series about high school girls.

The shocking attack left another 34 people injured, some critically. It drew an outpouring of grief for the dead and injured, most of them workers at the studio.

Kyoto prefectural police chief Hideto Ueda laid flowers at the site, vowing to find motives behind the attack, which he described as “unprecedented and unforgivable”.

While shooting deaths are rare in Japan, the country has had a series of high-profile killings in recent years.

Less than two months ago, a man described as a social recluse, or “hikikomori”, stabbed a number of private school children at a bus stop outside Tokyo, killing two people and wounding 17 before killing himself.

In 2016, a former employee at a home for the disabled allegedly killed 19 people and injured more than 20.

Nobuo Komiya, a Rissho University criminology professor, calls the attacks “suicidal terrorism” in which attackers typically see themselves as losers and target their anger to the society, often those who seem happy and successful.

“Feeling angry at people who they think are winners, they tend to choose privileged people as targets,” Mr Komiya said. “They think they have nothing to lose, they don’t care if they get caught or if they die.”

A man places flowers to honour the victims of Thursday’s fire Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP

They are part of a growing trend that reflects a change to the Japanese society, where disparities are growing and ties among families, community and other groups have weakened and people are less obliged to follow the rules and be part of it, he said.

“Japan shouldn’t be complacent about its safety any more. We should follow the US and Europe and do more for risk management.”

About 70 people were working inside the three-story Kyoto Animation studio in southern Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, at the time of the attack.

The arsonist arrived carrying two containers of flammable liquid.

He shouted, “You die!” as he entered the studio’s unlocked front door, dumped the liquid using a bucket, and set it afire with a lighter, police said.

Police at the scene confiscated petrol tanks, a knapsack and knives, but have not confirmed they belonged to the attacker.

The blaze blocked the front door and quickly engulfed the workspace, rising up the stairs to the third floor, sending panicked employees fleeing.

Some were able to escape by crawling out of windows, with the help of neighbours. Many tried but failed to escape to the roof, fire officials said. Most of the victims are believed to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The suspect fled but was chased by studio employees who eventually caught him. He collapsed to the ground outside a house and was quickly surrounded by police.

“They are always stealing. It’s their fault,” he told policemen bending over and asking him why he set the fire, according to a witness who described the scene outside her house.

The man complained bitterly that something had been stolen from him, the witness told NHK and other networks.