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Suspect named in arson at Osaka clinic

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An investigator carries boxes of evidence on Saturday out of a building where a deadly fire occurred in Kita Ward, Osaka.

OSAKA — Authorities released on Sunday the name of the 61-year-old patient suspected in the deadly arson attack on a clinic in central Osaka.

The Osaka prefectural police named Morio Tanimoto, whose address and occupation are unknown, as the suspect in the fire at the Nishi-Umeda Kokoro to Karada no Clinic. Housed on the fourth floor of a multitenant building in the Sonezakishinchi district of Osaka’s Kita Ward, the clinic was involved in psychosomatic medicine.

Tanimoto was taken to a hospital in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest. He was resuscitated but is in serious condition, according to the police.

The police released Tanimoto’s name before obtaining an arrest warrant, citing the seriousness of the attack that killed more than 20 people. They also said people who fell prey to the attack and bereaved relatives wanted the suspected to be identified.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Investigators on Saturday enter a building where a deadly fire occurred in Kita Ward, Osaka.

According to investigative sources, the man entered the clinic and placed a paper bag containing flammable liquid near a heater located at the reception desk. He then kicked the bag over, causing the liquid that leaked out to ignite.

Police said a security camera inside the clinic recorded the situation in which the fire broke out, and they identified the man as Tanimoto from the footage. Tanimoto’s registration card from the clinic and his driver’s license were in a wallet found inside the building. The police will investigate whether there was any trouble between him and the clinic.

The city’s fire department has detected an oily substance near the reception desk, where the fire was most intense. The flames rose to the ceiling, indicating the possibility that the liquid was gasoline, which is highly flammable.

Twenty-seven people were taken to the hospital in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest, and 24 of them have been confirmed dead. The remaining three people, including Tanimoto, were resuscitated.

The other two people who were revived are women, and they are in serious condition. Another woman was rescued from the sixth floor of the building with minor injuries.

The police have conducted autopsies on 19 of the 24 victims so far, identifying the cause of death for seven people as acute carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation. The seven include two victims whose identities were ascertained on Saturday.

Stricter rules

In the wake of the arson attack on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio in July 2019, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency tightened regulations on the sale of gasoline. Nevertheless, similar attacks believed to have used flammable liquid have occurred, prompting experts to seek further action.

Under the Fire Service Law, the sale of gasoline is restricted to gasoline stations that have employees on site. People can purchase up to 60 liters of gasoline at such stations and take it away if they have designated metallic containers.

The perpetrator of the Kyoto Animation attack brought gasoline in containers that he had bought at a gas station. He splashed the gasoline around and set it on fire, ultimately killing 36 people.

Following the attack, the agency revised an Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry ordinance to require gasoline stations from February 2020 to check and record the identity of buyers and the purpose for which they intend to use gasoline. If there are any suspicious customers, such as people who refuse to confirm their identity, gasoline sellers are urged to alert police.

However, some gasoline sellers have been perplexed about the stricter regulations.

At one gas station in Osaka, many customers say they will use the gasoline as fuel for power generators and heavy machinery. According to an employee of the station, however: “There’s no way to confirm whether the gasoline is used as declared, so we have to trust them. There’s a limit to what we can do.”

Gasoline continues to be used in arson, even after the introduction of tighter regulations. In March, a man sprayed gasoline in the elevator hall of a multitenant building during a live event and ignited it in Tokushima. He had purchased the gasoline at a self-service gas station.