• Kyodo, Jiji, staff report


The 61-year-old suspect in Friday's deadly arson attack on a mental health clinic in the city of Osaka was arrested in April 2011 on suspicion of attempted murder after stabbing his son in the head with a kitchen knife.

"I couldn't believe it since he seemed to be proud of his son when he was talking about him," said the president of a company where the suspect, Morio Tanimoto, worked as a construction sheet metal worker until 2010.

According to the company's president, Tanimoto entered his company in 2002 after working for his father, who ran another sheet metal factory. He left suddenly in 2008 but asked to be rehired the following year.

Around a year later, he quit again for unknown reasons and the company lost contact with him.

The president's wife expressed shock at the news that Tanimoto was the suspected arsonist.

"While with us, he was hardworking and did not do any bad things," she said.

Tanimoto had a wife and two children but divorced. Although he did not cause a major problem in the workplace, he started having unexcused absences from work around the time of his divorce.

He wanted to reconcile with his former wife, but it did not happen.

The Yomiuri daily reported that the court ruled Tanimoto guilty for the attempted murder in 2011, saying he started thinking about committing suicide after getting divorced and stabbed his son to commit a double suicide, and that police are investigating a possible link between the case and the suspected arson.

Tanimoto, who remains in a serious condition as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, was among 27 taken to hospitals following the clinic fire.

The blaze left 24 people dead. Fourteen of them had been identified as of Sunday, including the clinic's director, Kotaro Nishizawa, 49, police said.

Tanimoto, a patient of the clinic, is believed to have prepared liquid that could have been gasoline, a lighter and a tear gas spray. As Tanimoto set the clinic on fire soon after arriving at the building, police believe the attack was premeditated.

Investigative sources said Monday that he bought gasoline at a service station in late November.

On Friday, Tanimoto visited the clinic alone, according to police and other sources. Security camera footage showed him place two paper bags on the floor and kick them over. He then stooped down and set fire to a liquid that had leaked from the bags. A burned lighter and traces of oil were found at the site.

Around 30 minutes before the deadly fire, a minor fire broke out at a house in Osaka's Nishiyodogawa Ward, where the suspect was believed to live. The fire at the house, about 3.5 kilometers west of the Kita Ward building, may be an arson case.

Security cameras installed in the areas captured images of Tanimoto traveling from the house to the building by bicycle. The police have seized the bicycle, which had been parked near the building.

Tanimoto's older brother was shocked at the incident. "I hope he will recover and atone for his crimes," the brother said in tears.

According to the brother, Tanimoto is the second son of four siblings, and the third child. From around his junior high school days, he started helping his father run a sheet metal factory.

One notable event in his life came around the age of 18 or 19, when his mother died. Around that time, he started avoiding his father and other family members, according to the brother.

Having been estranged from Tanimoto for more than 30 years, the elder brother said he did not know where his younger brother had been or what he had been doing.

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