Resorts World Manila Casino Attack Leaves 36 Dead

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Tragedy believed to be result of a botched robbery attempt.

  • Gunman set himself alight
  • Victims died of suffocation
  • Dead included 13 employees, 22 guests
Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Early today, a gunman stormed a bustling Manila casino, fired shots and used gasoline to set gambling tables alight, creating clouds of smoke that swept through the crowds and killed at least 36 people. The gunman, who had fled with more than $2 million in stolen casino chips, then forced his way into a room in an adjoining hotel and killed himself.

While an Islamic State-linked Filipino said on social media that “lone wolf soldiers” of the IS group were behind the attack, there was no evidence to link the attack to fighting between government troops and Islamist militants in the country’s south.

If his goal was terrorism, “he would have shot all the people gambling”, National Police Chief Director General Ronald M dela Rosa said.

“Either he lost in the casino and wanted to recoup his losses or he went totally nuts,” Metropolitan Manila Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said.

“All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual. Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to do harm or shoot anyone,” Albayalde told reporters.

None of the bodies had gunshot wounds, authorities said, except for a single gunshot injury sustained by a guard at the complex. It was later revealed that the gunman had been shot by security personnel and sustained injuries, explaining why he holed up in the hotel room and killed himself.

Security footage showed the gunman ignoring a guard who tried to question him at the entrance of the complex. He then went straight to the casino. He stuffed a backpack with gambling chips, fired his assault rifle at TV screens and set gambling tables on fire by pouring gasoline onto them from a two-litre bottle he carried. It was not clear how he smuggled the gasoline and rifle into the casino.

The gunman, described as “white, with a moustache”, about 6 feet tall and English speaking, fled the gambling area and barged into a room on the fifth floor of Maxims Hotel, which is part of the Resorts complex. Apparently, he laid down on the bed, covered himself with a blanket, doused himself with gasoline and then set himself on fire. He carried no identity documents, according to police.

The bag of high-value gambling chips, with an estimated worth of more than $2 million, was found in a toilet.

Most of the dead suffocated in the chaos as guests and staff tried to flee choking smoke at the complex. Those that perished were in the casino’s main gaming area, which was carpeted, and along with the tables, were highly combustible.

A Resorts World Manila official said the dead included 13 employees and 22 guests.

More than 70 people suffered mainly minor injuries in the stampede to escape what at first had been feared as a militant attack.

The Philippines has been on heightened alert amid a crisis in the south of the country, where troops have been battling Islamist rebels since May 23.

President Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao last week and has warned it could become a haven for supporters fleeing Iraq and Syria.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump said Washington was closely monitoring what he described as a “terrorist” attack unfolding in Manila.

Dozens of police trucks and several huge Special Action Force vans and armoured personnel carriers lined side streets near the complex as the drama unfolded.

Relatives of victims gathered later in a parking area were weeping.

A joint venture of the Philippines’ Alliance Global Group Inc and Genting Hong Kong Ltd, Resorts World Manila is a complex of hotels, restaurants, stores and a sprawling multi-floor gambling area.