At least 36 people have died after a gunman stormed through a casino resort in the Philippine capital. The "Islamic State" has claimed responsibility, but police insist there are no indications of terrorism.
A gunman rampaged through a casino in the Philippine capital, torching gaming tables and stuffing a backpack with gambling chips, before committing suicide by setting himself on fire, police said on Friday.
Hundreds of people fled in panic as fire and plumes of smoke rose from the Resorts World Manila. The complex went into lockdown as police searched for the gunman who was later found dead in the hotel.
"He burned himself inside the hotel room 510," national police chief Ronald dela Rosa told a media conference. "He lay down on the bed, covered himself in a thick blanket and apparently doused himself in gasoline."
At least 36 bodies were later found, and most of them had died of suffocation, police said. Most of the bodies were found on the second and third floors in the casino area. None of the victims appeared to have gunshot wounds inflicted by the shooter, though police reported one security officer shot herself in panic when the gunman entered.
More than 50 people were also injured, with some reportedly jumping out of the multi-story building to avoid smoke and fire. Some also sustained injuries in a stampede to leave the complex.
Police said the incident appeared to be a robbery gone terribly wrong. They recovered gambling chips worth over $2 million from a toilet where the gunman had apparently dumbed them.
"It's either he lost in the casino and wanted to recoup his losses or he went totally nuts," Metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said.
The gunman is believed to have been a foreigner. Dela Rosa described the man as an English-speaking, mustached, white man. However, no identification was found on his body.
A terror attack?
Authorities ruled out terrorism at a time the Philippine army is engaged in a second week of fighting against militants affiliated with the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) in the southern city of Marawi.
"For now, we can say that this is not an act of terror. There is no element of violence, threat or intimidation that leads to terrorism," Dela Rosa said.
"He would have shot all the people gambling there," the police chief added, describing security footage in which the gunman had pushed past a security guard at the casino's entrance without hurting him. The police also said the gunman did not aim his automatic weapon at the people in the casino but instead fired his weapon at TV screens.
However, witnesses cited by local ABS-CBN News said they saw multiple gunmen.
IS claimed credit for the attack on its Amaq news agency on Friday. Earlier reports from the SITE Intelligence Group also cited a militant claiming that "lone wolf soldiers" had undertaken out the attack.
IS has often taken responsibility for isolated acts of violence it did not carry out as a way to feed its propaganda and bolster its image.
US President Donald Trump, who was briefed on the situation as it was still unfolding and before the gunman had been captured, also described it as a "terrorist attack" while expressing his condolences.
President Rodrigo Duterte this month declared martial law in Mindanao in response to militant Islam. Manila was not covered by that martial law declaration, but Duterte has mulled expanding it.
cw/bw (AFP, Reuters)