- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

DAEGU, South Korea A man accused of starting the fire that engulfed two South Korean subway trains and killed at least 125 persons was attempting to commit suicide, police said yesterday.
The suspect, Kim Dae-han, 56, has a history of mental illness and has told police that "he decided to die with others in a crowded place, rather than die by himself," said Police Lt. Cho Doo-won.
Witnesses said Mr. Kim, 56, boarded the train with a carton of flammable liquid and used a cigarette lighter to light it. Some passengers tried in vain to stop him.
Mr. Kim was hospitalized with light burns. He worked as truck driver and had once threatened to burn down the hospital where he had received unsatisfactory treatment, local news media reported, quoting relatives.
The disclosure of a possible motive in Tuesday's attack came as criticism of the official response to the tragedy mounted. Grieving relatives of victims complained of delays in body identification, and critics said the attack showed flaws in security measures.
"The government is not hurrying up with the investigation," Kang Mee-ja, whose mother died in the attack, cried as she and other family members looked at the debris of burned subway cars yesterday.
Investigators yesterday were still gauging the human toll of the blaze in Daegu, 200 miles southeast of Seoul. Only 44 of the dead had been identified, and officials feared that more of the 145 hurt could still die of their injuries.
By late yesterday, the provisional death toll was 125 53 confirmed dead and an estimated 72 bodies found on one of the destroyed trains.
Authorities counted 314 persons as still reported missing, but they said the number was greatly inflated by double reports and the enduring confusion over the identities of the dead.
Critics said the tragedy revealed holes in the nation's emergency response system and a potential vulnerability to terrorist attacks. The system carries 6.5 million passengers a day.
Subway officials in Seoul, the capital, said they would install emergency lighting, increase the number of exit signs, make car interiors flame resistant and heighten security in the aftermath of the accident.


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