Fire at Deoksu Palace was by serial arsonist

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Fire at Deoksu Palace was by serial arsonist

Police arrested a man who allegedly set fire Sunday to a site occupied by workers fired by Ssangyong Motor near Daehanmun, the main gate of Deoksu Palace, saying he’s set fires in Seoul before.

The Namdaemun Police Precinct in central Seoul said yesterday they apprehended on Sunday afternoon a 52-year-old man surnamed Ahn, a part-time street cleaner from outside Seoul, for setting fire to two of three tents being used by the protesting workers.

At 5:30 a.m. Sunday, a fire broke out in the tents where the protesters sleep and store their equipment including placards and speakers near the main gate of Deoksu Palace.

The fire consumed two of the tents as well as 8.5 million won ($7,700) worth of equipment. It spread to the palace itself and charred 27 rafters. The Cultural Heritage Administration estimated it will cost about 30 to 40 million won to replace the rafters.

Two former Ssangyong workers in one of the tents tried to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher but couldn’t stop the flames from spreading. Seoul Jungbu Fire Station dispatched fire fighters and they quenched the flames in 10 minutes.

In questioning, Ahn said, “I set fire to the dirty tent while I was cleaning streets near the palace.” But police believe he was involved in three other arson cases: at another protest site in Myeongdong, central Seoul last March; setting fire to a trash can in a Burger King in Myeongdong last March; and setting fire to an empty box outside of a restaurant in Jung District Sunday.

The police said Ahn came to Seoul 10 days ago from Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi, and has been working as a part-time street cleaner. He has been living at a jjimjilbang, or public bathhouse, in Jongno District.

The police are currently checking whether the suspect has a history of mental illness.

“We want the police to find out if he was sent to set the fire by a particular group, such as conservative civic groups,” protesters told reporters during a press conference held yesterday morning.



By Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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