Japan Arson Attack: Perpetrator Identified, Potential Motive Emerges

Kyoto Fire 2 - Getty - H 2019
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The arsonist was heard telling police as he was arrested that the studio had copied his ideas, while a local newspaper reported that he shouted that his novel had been stolen.

A potential motive has emerged for the deadly arson attack that killed at least 33 people and injured 36 more at Kyoto Animation in Japan on Thursday morning.

According to local news reports, the arsonist, who used large quantities of gasoline to set fire to the three-story concrete building, appears to believe the studio had stolen his ideas.

The man burned himself while igniting the fire and ran away from the building badly injured. He rang the doorbell of an elderly woman's house nearby only to collapse in the street before she could answer. On seeing the badly burned and shoeless suspect, she hosed him down with water.

When police arrived soon afterward, they confirmed the man's identity from his driver's license and asked him why he had done what he did. "They copied my ideas," he was overheard by bystanders telling the police in an agitated manner. The man was also heard shouting, "They stole my novel, that's why I lit the fire," according to the Kyoto Shimbun newspaper's Friday morning edition.

Later on Friday, the 41-year-old perpetrator of the attack was identified by police as Shinji Aoba. Police said he walked into Kyoto Animation's main production building carrying some 11 gallons of gasoline, sprayed the fluid around the office and onto onlookers, and set it alight. 

Kyoto Animation has run a competition for novels and manga, known as the Kyoto Animation Award, since 2009, via which writers have the chance for their stories to be turned into anime series and films. However, there is no evidence yet that the man submitted an entry or is even a writer.

Preliminary investigations by the police have uncovered no links between the suspect and the animation studio. The Kyoto police initially described him only as a 41-year-old man. Local media outlets have since reported that he is believed to have lived in Saitama Prefecture, a large suburban area on the northern side of Tokyo. He also is said to have served time in jail for robbing a convenience store at knife-point in Ibaraki Prefecture, neighboring Tokyo to the northeast. 

Kyoto police reported finding knives and a hammer at the scene of the fire, but they have not determined whether they belonged to the assailant. 

The suspect is reported to be in a serious condition with severe burns in the hospital, and police have been unable to question him thoroughly.