Tokyo/Osaka – A man seen by police as a potential suspect in a deadly fire at an Osaka mental health clinic was in a critical condition on Saturday, investigative sources said, a day after the blaze claimed 24 lives.
The 61-year-old former patient at the clinic in the city was being treated in a hospital and is in critical condition, the sources said.
The fire raged for half an hour on Friday morning, gutting the fourth floor of the narrow commercial building where the clinic, which also provided general medical care, was located.
Police were investigating a link with a small fire that had occurred at the man's home 30 minutes earlier, NHK and the Asahi Shimbun daily said.
On Saturday, police and firefighters conducted a joint investigation into the building in Osaka's Kita Ward to determine the cause of the fire.
The police are investigating the incident as a case of suspected murder and arson. They were also still trying to confirm the identities of the 24 victims — 14 men and 10 women.
"A total of 24 people died and four were injured. Whether their condition is critical or not is unclear," an official said.
Local media said most of the victims were believed to have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning, and may have been trapped inside the unit with the exit blocked. Firefighters found most of the victims unresponsive when they reached the site.
Some patients saw a man placing a paper bag containing a flammable liquid next to a heater, which he then kicked over to ignite.
The father of the doctor who runs the clinic said he did not yet know if his son was among the dead.
"I hope (my son) is safe and alive. That's all I want," he said in comments reported by several major newspapers.
The doctor had been having a hard time, with many patients wanting certificates to apply for unemployment insurance, his father added.
A patient in his 20s at the clinic expressed anger over the fire.
"I just cannot forgive the person who has done this," the patient told reporters gathered at the scene, declining to give his name.
"I want the one who is responsible to pay for the crime according to law," he added.
Mourners placed bouquets of flowers and offerings of beer and water on a makeshift table in the front of the building, which was covered in blue plastic sheets and guarded by police.
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 years.
The attack sent shock waves through the anime industry and its fans in Japan and around the world.
And in recent months there has been a string of assaults involving fire and knives on and around the country's train network.
A 24-year-old man was arrested in Tokyo on Halloween for attempted murder after he allegedly stabbed a passenger and started a fire inside a moving train, wearing an outfit reminiscent of infamous comic book villain the Joker.
That incident reportedly inspired a 69-year-old man to try to start a fire inside a running bullet train in the southwestern Kyushu region. No injuries were reported.
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