Initial pictures and videos of the incident showed the entire upper side of the school catching fire.
Shahirman, 39, who lives nearby the tahfiz centre, said it was about 5am when he heard the students crying for help. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin Firefighters carry a body out of religious school Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah after a fire broke out in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia September 14, 2017.
The victims are thought to been trapped in their dormitory as the windows were barred with metal grilles. The students and teachers were reportedly in the upper room, where the fire broke out.
Minister Tengku Adnan said the religious school, called Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah had been operating without a licence, while local media reported that officials had recently raised fire safety concerns about such private schools. He said it was the worst fire incident in the past two decades and they are trying to establish the cause of the incident.
There are 519 tahfiz schools - where children are sent to memorize the Koran - registered in Malaysia, however many more are believed to be unregistered, the Star Online reported.
Mr Singh said police were still finalising the details and investigating the cause.
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They reportedly suffered a number of serious injuries and smoke inhalation problems.
"I saw four boys in the third floor screaming 'too hot, too hot, '" said Ahmad, adding he later helped a boy who managed to get out of the window and fell on the ground. He said they found a pile of bodies in the right corner of the dorm and another pile in the left corner.
Such schools are not regulated by the education ministry of the country.
"Before 6 o'clock, the firemen came but I think numerous people already died inside because of the smoke", Ahmad said.
He said the premises had been only temporary but those running the school should nevertheless have followed safety requirements.
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