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KYOTO: A man suspected of torching an animation studio and killing 33 people in Japan’s worst mass killing in two decades had been convicted of robbery and carried out the attack because he believed his novel had been plagiarised, media said on Friday.

Public broadcaster NHK, which identified the 41-year-old man as Shinji Aoba, citing police, said he served time in prison for robbing a convenience store east of Tokyo in 2012 and, after his release, lived in facilities for former convicts. He had also received care for mental illness, NHK said.

The attack on Thursday in the ancient capital of Kyoto, targeting the well-known animation studio, Kyoto Animation, killed 33 people and 10 were in critical condition, authorities said. Most of the dead were killed by carbon dioxide inhalation, NHK said.

It was the worst mass killing in a country with one of the world’s lowest crime rates since a suspected arson attack in Tokyo killed 44 people in 2001.

Aoba wheeled a trolley carrying at least one bucket of petrol to the entrance of the building before dousing the area, shouting “die” and setting it ablaze on Thursday, broadcaster Nippon TV said, citing police.

“I did it,” Aoba told police when he was detained, Kyodo news said, adding that he had started the fire because he believed the studio had stolen his novel.

Police declined to comment. Aoba was under anaesthesia because of burns he suffered and police were unable to question him, Nippon TV said.

He “seemed to be discontented, he seemed to get angry, shouting something about how he had been plagiarised”, a woman who saw him being detained told reporters.

“I imagine many of the people who died were in their twenties,” said 71-year-old Kozo Tsujii, fighting back tears after laying flowers near the studio in the rain. He said he drives by the studio on his daily commute.

“I’m just very, very sad that these people who are so much younger than me passed away so prematurely,” he said.

The studio had about 160 employees with an average age of 33, according to its website. That makes it a relatively young company in rapidly greying Japan.

Tributes to the victims lit up social media, with world leaders and Apple Inc’s chief executive offering condolences.

Aoba, a resident of the Tokyo suburb of Saitama, some 480 km (300 miles) east of the ancient capital of Kyoto, was believed to have bought two 20-litre cans at a hardware store and prepared the petrol in a park near the studio, Nippon TV said.

He travelled to the area by train, the broadcaster said.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2019