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Firefighters battle the blaze at the three-story studio of Kyoto Animation Co. in Kyoto, western Japan. The fire was started by a 41-year-old man. Image Credit: Reuters

Tokyo: Fire swept through an animation studio in Japan on Thursday and at least 30 people were feared killed and scores injured, with the cause suspected to have been arson after a man was seen shouting “die” as he doused the building with petrol.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the fire at Kyoto Animation in the city of Kyoto – the nation’s worst mass killing in nearly two decades - “too appalling for words” on Twitter and offered condolences to the victims.

What has happened so far?

Police arrested a 41-year-old man who had shouted “die” as he poured what appeared to be petrol around the three-storey Kyoto Animation building shortly after 0100 GMT, public broadcaster NHK reported. Twenty people were confirmed dead and about 10 were showing no vital signs, an official for the Kyoto City Fire Department said, a term authorities often use before a death has been confirmed by a doctor.

How did the incident unfold?

The fire broke out at the three-storey building at around 10.30 local time (01.35 GMT) on Thursday. Rescue operations are still ongoing. Police also found knives at the scene, say local media. NHK said the man had been heard saying “drop dead” as he set fire to the building. It is not clear what relationship the suspect may have had with the company. The 10 people without vital sounds were found in the studio, some on third floor and others in a staircase leading up to the roof, the fire official said. Another 36 were injured, 10 of them seriously, the official said.

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Rescue workers carry injured people from the three-story Kyoto Animation building which was torched in Kyoto Image Credit: Reuters

Why was Kyoto Animation targeted?

Kyoto Animation is best known for producing shows and movies including “Full Metal Panic,” “K-On” and “Clannad,” among other works. It was founded by Yoko Hatta and her husband, Hideaki Hatta, in 1981, and most of the studio’s production takes place in the building that was the site of Thursday’s fire. The blaze came less than two months after a man went on a stabbing rampage in a suburb outside Tokyo, attacking 17 schoolgirls, killing one of them as well as an adult. The rampage by the 51-year-old man cast attention to the phenomenon of Japan’s “hikikomori,” adults who are extreme recluses, and their psychological issues.

What did witnesses have to say?

Eyewitnesses described a loud explosion followed by an inferno that rapidly engulfed the building. White and black smoke billowed from the building’s charred windows, television footage showed. It was Japan’s worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack on a Tokyo building in 2001. “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 prime minister said the cause was arson. “Today, many people were killed and wounded in an arson murder case in Kyoto,” Abe said in a post on Twitter. “It is too appalling for words.”

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Firefighters respond to a building fire of Kyoto Animation in Kyoto Image Credit: AP

What has happened to the suspect?

The suspected arsonist was injured and was being treated in hospital, so police could not question him, NHK said. Kyoto police declined to comment. Latest reports say the man is not a former employee and does not have any obvious connection to the studio. Some Japanese newspaper reports say the suspect ran away from the building towards a nearby station after the fire started but fell to the ground. “A person with singed hair was lying down and there were bloody footprints,” a 59-year-old woman living nearby told news agency Kyodo. Violent crime is relatively rare in Japan but occasional high-profile incidents have shocked the country.

How have fans reacted?

On social media, many fans have been expressing their shock and posting pictures of their favourite KyoAni shows. A GoFundMe campaign titled “Help KyoAni Heal” has also been started, with more than $130,000 (Dh477,100) raised in three hours. Voiceover artist SungWon Cho - who works on anime films - was among those to react.