At least 13 feared dead in suspected arson at Japan animation studio

Kiyoshi Takenaka, Reuters

Posted at Jul 18 2019 02:53 PM | Updated as of Jul 18 2019 05:12 PM

An aerial view shows firefighters battling the fires at the site where a man started a fire after spraying a liquid, at a three-story studio of Kyoto Animation Co. in Kyoto, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 18, 2019. Kyodo/via Reuters

TOKYO (UPDATE) - At least 13 people were feared dead and scores injured when an animation studio was torched in Japan on Thursday, authorities said, with the cause suspected to be arson by a man who shouted "Die" as he doused the building with petrol.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the fire in the city of Kyoto - the latest grisly killing in a country known for its low crime rates - "too appalling for words" on Twitter and offered condolences to the victims.

Police had taken a 41-year-old man into custody who had shouted "Die" as he poured what appeared to be petrol around the three-story Kyoto Animation building shortly after 10 a.m. (0100 GMT), public broadcaster NHK reported.

White and black smoke billowed from the windows of the building, television footage showed.

The studio produces popular series such as the "Sound! Euphonium." Its "Free! Road to the World - The Dream" movie is due for release this month.

"I heard the sound of fire engines and stepped outside my house, and saw big flames spewing out of the building," NHK quoted a 16-year-old boy as saying.

"Fire department officials were trying to rescue the injured in a nearby park but it seemed like there weren't enough of them," he said.

The casualties included seven confirmed dead, six with no vital signs, and another 10 or so people found unconscious, a Kyoto city fire department official told Reuters.

Another 36 have been injured, 10 of them seriously, the official said.

SUSPECT IN HOSPITAL

The suspected arsonist was injured and was being treated in hospital, so police could not question him, NHK said.

The fire department official said earlier that some 30 people, who were believed to have been in the building at the time of the fire, could not be reached.

Some or all of the 10 or so people later found unconscious on the top floor and the staircase leading to the roof may be included in that tally, he said.

Kyoto police declined to comment.

Violent crime is relatively rare in Japan but occasional high-profile incidents have shocked the country.

Less than two months ago, a knife-wielding man slashed at a group of schoolgirls at a bus stop in Kawasaki, a city just south of Tokyo, killing one girl and the father of another, while injuring more than a dozen children.

In 2016, a man armed with a knife broke into a facility for the disabled in a small town near Tokyo and killed 19 patients.