By Humeyra Pamuk and Gulsen Solaker
ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – Police in southern Turkey detained 12 people on Wednesday and sought two others over a fire in a dormitory that killed 11 schoolgirls and one other person, an official at the prosecutor’s office handling the investigation said.
Flames swept through the mostly wooden interior of the two-storey dormitory in the town of Aladag late on Tuesday, causing the roof to collapse. Images from the scene showed shattered windows as pupils tried to escape by jumping out.
Prosecutors in the nearby district of Kozan issued arrest warrants for 14 people including the staff of the dormitory and executives from the foundation that runs it, they said in a statement. Twelve have been arrested, the official said.
One of the people detained was the dormitory manager, the state-run Anadolu agency said. Twenty-four people, many of them schoolgirls, were injured.
European Affairs Minister Omer Celik, a ruling AK Party lawmaker who represents the surrounding province in the national parliament, said the suspected cause was an electrical fault.
But the opposition complained of lax regulation and criticized an education policy that has seen a growing number of such dormitories set up to house poor students from villages where there are no state schools.
Local media said the dormitory was run by one of the several religious movements in Turkey that operate such facilities.
“As part of the investigation launched into this grave incident, three prosecutors have been assigned to identify if there is any negligence with regards to the fire and to bring those responsible to justice,” the prosecutors’ statement said.
Dozens of people tried to gather outside the Education Ministry in Ankara to protest after the fire, but police detained many of them before the demonstration began, a Reuters witness said.
Elif Dogan Turkmen, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said she had unsuccessfully tabled several proposals in parliament to improve the inspection and supervision of such buildings.
“The AKP has abandoned all state authority on education to religious movements and cults,” Turkmen told Reuters. “They throw children from poor families into the lap of cults by not building dormitories themselves.”
Local mayor Huseyin Sozlu was quoted by the Hurriyet newspaper as saying the door to a fire escape was shut, trapping some of the victims inside. But Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak denied that was the case.
“The initial information passed on from investigators and our prosecutor suggests there was no lock on the door,” he said.
Hurriyet daily reported that the majority of the pupils killed were found by the fire escape.
Kaynak rejected accusations of insufficient inspections, saying the building had been audited in June as well as last year and that it had the necessary license.
Such incidents are not uncommon in Turkey. In 2008, an explosion triggered by a gas leak in a religious preparatory school in the central province of Konya killed 18 girls and injured 29. Charges were brought against the dormitory manager and other officials. The case is ongoing.
(Additional reporting by Mert Ozkan; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alison Williams)