Youths charged with murder after fatal fire at Malaysian school

A view shows the second floor of religious school Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah after a fire broke out in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

Two Malaysian teenagers were charged with murder on Thursday, for setting fire to an Islamic boarding school that killed 23 people, mostly boys.

The fire in Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 14 was the deadliest of its kind in two decades, and the tragedy sparked public outrage, with calls for greater safety and tougher regulation at religious schools.

The blaze had broken out in a top-floor dormitory at the three-storey boarding school where most of the students were sleeping in bunk beds, with many of the windows barred by metal grilles.

The two accused were part of a group of seven youths, all male and aged between 12 and 18, who police said had started the fire after feuding with students from the boarding school. They lived in the neighborhood and did not attend the school.

Prosecutors declined to provide the suspects’ names or ages, citing Malaysia’s child protection laws, but said both the accused boys were minors.

“They are being tried jointly and are facing 23 counts of murder, one for each victim of the fire,” prosecuting lawyer Othman Abdullah told reporters outside a juvenile court in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia carries a mandatory death penalty for murder, but authorities have said it will not apply to the youths as they were underage. They could instead face jail time, whipping, fines or detention at an approved school.

The two, along with four others, are also facing drug use charges. All but one were minors, while another youth was released due to insufficient evidence, Othman said.

Those charged had tested positive for drugs, including marijuana and methamphetamine, according to a charge sheet sighted by Reuters.

The court has set Nov. 28 as the date for the next hearing, Othman said.