KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysian teenagers were charged with murder yesterday in connection with a fire that killed 23 children and teachers at an Islamic school this month. The pair, who cannot be named because they are aged under 18, were also charged with drug abuse along with four other suspects. Police arrested seven suspects, all aged 12 to 18, after the blaze-the country’s worst for two decades-that gutted the school on September 14 in the capital Kuala Lumpur. The seventh suspect was released for lack of evidence, state prosecutors said.
Twenty-one students, all boys aged six to 16, and two teachers died as the inferno engulfed the religious school’s dormitory just before dawn. Malaysian police believe the fire was deliberately started using gas canisters after the suspects had a disagreement with the school’s pupils. The building’s only exit was blocked by fire and the windows were barred with security grilles, preventing escape. State prosecutor Othman Abdullah said the suspects will be back in court on November 28.
Journalists were not allowed inside the courtroom and Othman did not give further details. Although adult murder convictions in Malaysia come with a mandatory death penalty, a senior minister confirmed earlier that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death, but can face jail time. The blaze focused attention on religious schools in Malaysia, where many Muslims send their children to study the Koran but which are not regulated by education authorities and have faced criticism for being unsafe. About 60 percent of Malaysia’s population of more than 30 million are Muslim Malays, and the country is also home to substantial ethnic and religious minorities.–AFP