x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Police 'arrest ex-wife' for Kuwait fire

One person is arrested in connection with a fire that killed at least 46 women and children at a wedding tent near Kuwait.

KUWAIT CITY // The ministry of interior has arrested one person in connection with the fire that killed at least 46 women and children and injured around 70 others at a wedding tent on the outskirts of Kuwait on Saturday night. The groom's ex-wife has been linked to the case. Kuwaiti security has picked up the alleged perpetrator of the wedding tent fire in Jahra, the state news agency KUNA said yesterday, citing a statement from the ministry of interior. The minister of the interior, Sheikh Jaber Khalid al Sabah, vowed at the cabinet's weekly meeting in Seif Palace that the criminal will be brought to justice.

While the identity of the alleged perpetrator was not revealed in the statement, suspicion has fallen on the former wife of the groom. A source at the ministry of information said the woman was being questioned by the criminal investigation department. Speaking yesterday morning, the source said the woman had not yet confessed to the crime. "She said she went by taxi to buy gasoline, and was planning to light a fire, but said she didn't go through with her plan."

Mohammad al Saber, the ministry of the interior's spokesman, told the state-owned Kuwait Television that the fire in Jahra had been started for "personal reasons". He also did not give any details about the perpetrator. The local press reported yesterday that the former wife had already confessed to lighting the fire that engulfed the tent in minutes, causing a stampede for the door that led to many people being trampled near the exit.

The woman, who is 23-years-old, started the blaze as revenge for her "bad treatment" before the divorce, Al Qabas newspaper reported. The bride escaped uninjured but her mother and sister were killed, the English-language daily, the Kuwait Times, said. Abdullah al Zafeeri, who lives next door to the house where the tent was pitched, said his Sri Lankan maid witnessed the ex-wife setting fire to the tent with gasoline, and has since been under questioning by the police. Mr al Zafeeri was speaking at Al Babtain Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery, where he was visiting his sister who was injured badly in the tragedy.

Another man who was visiting his wife at the centre, Faris al Zafeeri, said his wife told him she had smelt petrol before the inferno. Mr al Zafeeri's wife has suffered 10 per cent burns to her back, elbow and shoulder, but she is one of the luckier ones - she is expected to make a full recovery. The location of the tent has been criticised by officials because the close proximity of buildings hampered the rescue operation.

Jahra is not known for the luxurious and spacious mansions found in other parts of Kuwait. Its brick and corrugated iron buildings house many of the country's settled Bedouin nomads and stateless locals. By the time the fire brigade arrived, the tent had collapsed leaving a pile of charred bodies near the exit, witnesses at the scene said. The government is using DNA to identify the remains of corpses that have been burnt beyond recognition.

"I saw women and children who were so badly burnt that they had lost fingers and arms," one witness, Bader al Shamari, said. "Dead bodies were piled on top of each other. "We really need better safety regulations for this sort of thing." A member of parliament, Salwa al Jassar, who visited Al Babtain centre yesterday, said: "I was at Jahra hospital yesterday. "We are so sad about what happened - it's a disaster.

"We've never had anything like this before. "But there is very high quality medical assistance in Kuwait, we have very good services." Critically injured women, bandaged from head to toe, were brought to the centre from other hospitals yesterday. The intensive care unit's 10 beds have been utilised at full capacity since the disaster, space became available when five women lost their lives during the night.

Al Babtain is the only specialist centre for burns and reconstruction in Kuwait. Dr Ahmad al Fadhli, the head of the burns and reconstruction department, has conducted around one-third of the 15 operations at the centre since yesterday. "We have patients who have 120 per cent burns," he said. "They are burnt 100 per cent plus they have burns from inhalation, it adds up to 120 per cent. "Yesterday we had 24 admissions, and five died.

"There were 19 this morning and five new cases have arrived. At the end of the day, I'll probably have more." Dr al Fadhli estimated that 50 women and children have now died. The emir, Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah, expressed his condolences at a special meeting of the cabinet on Sunday. The cabinet set up an emergency committee including the ministers of interior and health, the municipality and the fire department to look at the tragedy and find ways to ensure it is not repeated.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae