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Fires

Suspect in deadly arson attack on Kyoto Animation studio arrested

Shinji Aoba allegedly set the studio on fire in July last year, killing 36 people

The arson attack on Kyoto Animation Co.'s studio, seen here in July 2019, killed 36 people, injured 33 and sent fans all over the world into mourning. (Photo by Tomoki Mera)

KYOTO (Kyodo) -- The hospitalized suspect in a deadly arson attack last July on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio was arrested Wednesday after being judged to have recovered sufficiently from life-threatening burns, police said.

The arrest of Shinji Aoba, 42, from the city of Saitama, north of Tokyo, came 10 months after he allegedly torched the studio in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward, killing 36 people and injuring 33 others.

Aoba was arrested on suspicion of murder and arson among other crimes. The number of victims makes it one of Japan's biggest ever murder cases.

The police had earlier planned to arrest Aoba, who is still largely bedridden, around January but arrangements were affected by the spread of the new coronavirus and his unstable health condition, according to investigative sources.

Following his arrest at a Kyoto hospital, Aoba was transferred to a police station in the city where he will be questioned. Wearing a mask, he was lying on a stretcher during the transfer and serious burn marks were seen on his face and arms.

The Kyoto police said Wednesday that Aoba has admitted to attacking the studio, known internationally for producing a number of popular animation works, with gasoline. He was quoted as saying there was "no mistake" in the allegations against him.

Shinji Aoba is transferred to the Fushimi Police Station in Kyoto on May 27. (Photo by Yoshiyuki Tamai)

"I thought I could kill many people by using gasoline," the police also quoted him as saying, adding that he has not apologized or expressed regret for his alleged actions during questioning.

The police said they believe Aoba's condition has become stable enough for him to endure detention and that they have prepared medical facilities at the police station.

The police also sent papers on him to prosecutors.

Asked about the timing of the arrest of the bedridden suspect, Toshiyuki Kawase, head of the Kyoto prefectural police's first investigation division, told a press conference, "His condition is improving and there is a risk of escape or destruction of evidence."

In response to Aoba's arrest, Kyoto Animation said in a statement, "We have nothing to say to the suspect...Our fellow workers whose lives were lost will never come back and the wounds of our colleagues will never be healed."

The company said it expects Aoba to face "maximum criminal responsibility," according to the statement issued though the studio's legal representative.

Families of the victims expressed hope that investigators will get to the bottom of the motive for the crime.

Immediately after being detained by police near the scene in July last year, Aoba said he carried out the attack because the company "stole a novel" from him, according to investigative sources.

Kyoto Animation has held public contests in which it accepts draft novels and then makes the winning works into anime, and has said that someone with the same name as Aoba submitted one. But the company has denied basing any of its anime on this work.

The three-story studio, the center of the company's anime production, was set ablaze about 10:30 a.m. on July 18. He is suspected of igniting gasoline inside the building, where 70 people were working at the time.

After receiving specialist treatment and undergoing multiple skin grafts at a hospital in Osaka Prefecture, he was sent back to the Kyoto hospital in November for rehabilitation.

Most of the victims were in their 20s and 30s. Unlike many other studios, Kyoto Animation is known to hire young animators and train them in-house rather than rely on skilled freelancers.

The company, often referred to as "KyoAni" by fans at home and abroad, is known for works such as "K-On!" and "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya."

The attack attracted condolence messages from around the world, including Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook, who tweeted soon afterward, "Kyoto Animation is home to some of the world's most talented animators and dreamers -- the devastating attack today is a tragedy felt far beyond Japan.

"KyoAni artists spread joy all over the world and across generations with their masterpieces," Cook said.

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