Japanese laws may need to be strengthened to stop more copycat attacks from occurring.

On 24 March, a man was arrested on suspicion of setting fire to a building in the city of Tokushima, where a Japanese idol group concert was taking place. Today, investigators revealed that the man told them he was aiming to imitate the deadly Kyoto animation arson attack that occurred in 2019.

The suspect, Shigeru Okada, an unemployed 38-year-old resident of Tokushima Prefecture, was accused of trespassing on the site of the Acty Annex building on 14 March, shortly after a local idol group had started performing at a bar on the top floor of the four-storey building.

▼ The latest image of Acty Annex on Google Maps dates back to April 2019, before the recent blaze.

According to police, the fire broke out just after the performance had started at 1:00 p.m., threatening the lives of approximately 70 people who were on the premises, including customers and the five members of the idol group, who were all able to evacuate safely outside. The manager of the bar, who is in his 50s, was able to extinguish the fire, suffering burns to his neck in the process.

At the scene of the incident, police found a knife and a blue-coloured metal fuel canister with remnants of gasoline inside. Gasoline appeared to have been deliberately spilled in the hall outside the elevator on the third floor, leading investigators to believe it was an arson attack.

Footage from surveillance cameras, and a dashboard camera from a nearby taxi, led investigators to Okada, who was arrested on suspicion of arson of an inhabited building.

During questioning, Okada admitted to the charges, saying he lit the fire in the elevator hall on the third storey of the building, burning the floor and walls. He said he was “imitating the Kyoto Animation incident”, buying gasoline before arriving at the scene, in the same way arsonist Shinji Aoba had before the blaze in Kyoto that killed 36 people.

According to investigators, Okada purchased approximately 14 litres (3.7 gallons) of gasoline from a self-service gas station within the prefecture a few hours before the incident.

Following the 2019 arson attack, the national Fire and Disaster Management Agency pushed through new legislation from 1 February 2020 that requires customers purchasing gasoline in containers to declare their purpose for the gas and show a valid ID.

While it’s unclear whether Okada was asked to provide his ID and a reason for purchasing gasoline by staff at the gas station, this new incident shows that the government may need to tighten these laws to prevent more copycat attacks from occurring.

While Aoba’s attack was motivated by anger at the animation company for a scene that he believes was stolen from him, investigators are yet to understand the motivation behind Okada’s actions.

Sources: Tokyo Shimbun via Jin 
Top image: Wikipedia/L26
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