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Horrific fire in Malaysia sparks outrage

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(Sept 2017) Malaysia faced mounting calls for stronger regulation of religious schools following a horrific fire at an Islamic boarding school that killed 23 victims, most of them teenage boys trapped behind the barred windows of their dormitory.

The fire broke out at a tahfiz school where students learn to memorise the Koran. Malaysian officials said there had been 31 similar fire incidents in the past but Thursday’s fire was the worst seen in 20 years.

Family members of Mohamad Haikal Abdullah, a 12-year-old who died in the blaze, were furious after reports emerged that the only door at the school’s dormitory had caught fire and that the windows had metal bars, leaving the boys trapped and unable to escape.

“From what we understand, there was only one way out but they couldn’t get through because it was on fire,” Faizal Abdullah, Mohamad Haikal’s brother, said while waiting for his sibling’s remains to be identified outside a hospital morgue late on Thursday.

“How could they have escaped? How could something like this have happened? We want to know.”

Fire department operations deputy director Soiman Jahid said on Thursday that the cause was likely to have been a short circuit or a mosquito repellent coil.

Authorities claimed the school had made structural changes to the building and had not secured a clearance from the fire department. The school denied this.