DOHA At least 19 foreign nationals, including 13 children, were killed in a fire that ripped through an upscale shopping mall in Qatar on Monday, the country's interior ministry said.
The children were from New Zealand, Spain, Japan, the Philippines, and Benin, among other countries. A Spanish diplomatic source in Madrid told Reuters that four of the dead children were Spanish.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, which media reports said broke out at a childcare area at the Villagio Mall in Doha's west.
Qatar's interior ministry only confirmed that the fire had started somewhere between Gates 3 and 4 in the mall and that an investigation was under way.
"There don't seem to have been any fire alarms or sprinklers at the mall," a relative of a two-year-old child who died in the fire told Reuters, speaking by phone from Qatar's Hamad hospital.
A ministry official said that all buildings in Qatar abide by safety regulations "with no exceptions" and that an investigative committee would be formed to look into safety requirements issues.
Smoke was seen billowing from the mall, which was evacuated. Ambulances and police vehicles blocked entry into the shopping complex.
"We tried to get to the children's area but the extremely high heat stood in our way," Brigadier Hamad al-Duhaimi of the Qatari civil defense told reporters.
A ministry official told journalists that none of the dead were Qataris. Four of the dead adults were teachers and the other two were civil defense personnel, the official said. Seventeen people were wounded, including four children, the official said.
The dead included three New Zealand children, believed to be two-year old triplets, who were in the childcare centre.
"The family are obviously dealing with terrible grief," Prime Minister John Key told reporters.
"Obviously there are very serious questions that will need to be answered," he said.
Many expatriates live in Qatar, a gas- and oil-rich Gulf Arab state with one of the highest standards of living in the world.
The Villagio Mall, which opened in 2006, is an Italianate-themed shopping complex with a hotel, theme park and canal plied by gondolas.
(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in MADRID, Mahmoud Habboush in DUBAI, and Gyles Beckford in WELLINGTON; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Paul Tait)