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Five arrests after deadly Qatar mall fire

The daughter of a Qatar government minister is among five people arrested over the fire in a Doha mall which killed 19 people, including New Zealand triplets.

 
 

Doha Mall fire

THE daughter of a Qatar government minister is among five people arrested over the fire in a Doha mall which killed 19 people, including New Zealand triplets.

Those arrested include the owner of the Villaggio Mall which housed the Gympanzee childcare facility the triplets were attending on Monday when the fire broke out and the nursery’s owner, the Qatar News Agency reported.

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The blaze killed two-year-old Lillie, Willsher and Jackson Weekes, the children of New Zealanders Martin and Jane Weekes.

The English-language Doha News website says the Gympanzee owner is Iman Al-Kuwari, the daughter of Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, Qatar’s Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage.

It says Dr Al-Kuwari described his daughter as “the saddest person on earth”.

Dr Al-Kuwari was among 1500 people who joined Mr and Mrs Weekes at an emotional vigil in Doha on Tuesday which was marked by an impromptu haka and waiata.

The triplets’ parents clutched red roses and a single teddy bear during the service.

The agency says the mall’s manager, its assistant manager and the assistant director of security were also arrested and detained on the order of Attorney-General Dr Ali Bin Fetais Al-Marri.

Sprinkler systems malfunctioned at the Villaggio complex and rescue crews struggled without blueprints of the vast complex, bringing calls for sweeping safety and licensing reviews in one of the world’s fastest-growing countries.

It was not immediately clear whether charges would be filed.

Investigators, meanwhile, are carrying out extensive probes through the fire-damaged sections of the mall, but authorities have not announced the cause of the fire. Findings from the state-ordered inquest are expected within a week.

In a statement, the Weekes said the Wellington-born triplets were the “joy of their lives” and they were grateful for love and support they had received since the fire.

“Lillie, Jackson and Willsher came into this world together and were inseparable as siblings, best friends and the joy of our life. Tragically, they left together after only two short years.”

At least 12 people remain in hospital following the fire which claimed the lives of 13 expatriate children: seven girls, six boys, along with four female teachers and two firefighters.

The victims include children from Spain, France, and others from Japan and South Africa. The dead teachers include three Filipinas and one from South Africa.

The Weekes children had been attending the childcare centre for about two or three months.

Their parents had moved to Qatar in 2007 and Mr Weekes is a senior adviser at a Qatar government agency.

Rescue crews in Qatar’s capital Doha had to hack through the roof of the mammoth Villaggio mall to reach the child care facility.

“What happened is similar to murder because of the lack of safety measures in such complexes,” wrote Saleh al-Kuwari, editor of the Al Raya newspaper in Doha.

An editorial in the newspaper Al Arab urged officials around the Gulf to consider creating special firefighting and civil defence units for the energy-rich region’s huge malls. The Villaggio includes an ice skating rink, theme park, movie theatre and indoor Venetian-style gondola rides.

“Safety requirements must be stressed,” said the editorial. “They also need regular review.”

Qatar’s Interior Ministry said the mall’s sprinkler system malfunctioned, and rescue efforts were hampered by a lack of floor plans. Other Gulf nations also have confronted concerns about whether public safety planning can keep pace with the construction boom.

Qatar Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani offered condolences to “all the parents and relatives of those killed in this horrible fire.”

The Villaggio opened in 2006 and is one of the most popular shopping and amusement destinations in fast-growing Qatar, which will host football’s 2022 World Cup.

More than three-quarters of Qatar’s population of 1.8 million residents are foreigners attracted to the tiny nation for jobs ranging from labourers to government advisers.

 
 

 

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