At least 36 people have died after a gunman opened fire inside the Resorts World casino in Manila, Philippines in the early hours of Friday morning (Thursday evening GMT) before setting it on fire. The Southern Police District Superintendent Tomas Apolinario later saying: “We have some injured people and we have some dead as well, but none of them have gunshot wounds.” The suspect then fled with some 113m Philippine pesos ($2.3m US, £1.7m) worth of casino chips, but only got as far as a an adjoining hotel where he committed suicide by dousing his body with gasoline and setting himself on fire. The National Police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said: “He lay down on the bed, covered himself with a thick blanket, apparently poured petrol on the blanket and burned himself.”
The suspect (pictured below) was described as white, English-speaking and about 6ft tall. The police initially said there were no fatalities, but on sweeping the building after the gunman was dead and the situation was under control, they found at least 35 bodies in the building. Reports suggest that the gunmen only shot in the air before setting the building on fire by lighting the carpets and tables. Most of the dead are said to have died of suffocation from the toxic smoke caused by the furniture and carpets burning. Most were also found dead in bathrooms, which suggests they tried to flee the fire and became trapped. At least one was said to have died of a heart attack while trying to escape the building. Others jumped from the first and second floors, the lucky ones only broke legs and other bones in the process. A local maintenance worker who tried to help recalled the situation: “We took out a ladder to save them. We were able to save many of them. One woman I was trying to save fell from the second floor.”
Questions are still unanswered as to whether the suspect even intended to kill anyone, as he fired in the air and, if it was a robbery may have started to the fire to cause confusion and escape. Some of the gunfire was caused, it is claimed by Ian Manalo – a spokesman for the Bureau of Fire Protection – when the suspect placed bullets on a gaming table which he then set on fire, causing bullets to shoot off randomly and sending those inside ducking for cover: “That’s why they died of suffocation because they hid instead of exiting. Instead of rushing to the fire exit, they hid from the exploding bullets.” This would have added to the fear that it was a terrorist attack with many people fleeing shouting “Isis, Isis.” The fire spread quickly and caused panic. Hotel guest Jeff Santos told a radio station that “even the security personnel panicked,” and “definitely us patrons we did not expect that – everyone ran away.”
The US terrorism monitoring Site Intelligence Group said that an Islamic State-linked Filipino claimed “lone wolf soldiers” of Islamic State were responsible for the attack. Police, however, said they could see no link with terrorism or with the Philippine Government’s ongoing fight with IS-aligned militants in the south of the country. The authorities claimed he was “mentally disturbed” and police insist he was working alone and has no connections to any Islamist group. Resorts World Manila has called the casino shooting a “cowardly act of a deranged mind”. The fire department said that the suspect was a “longtime guest” at the casino’s hotel and suggested he was retaliating against large gambling losses. Police claimed it was a botched robbery. A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said: “All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual.” It is pointed out that not only did he not shoot anyone, but he took no hostages. He was shot by a member of the security staff and, according to the Resorts Casino: “Severe blood loss from the gunshot wound significantly slowed the assailant down and resulted in his holing up in a room where he took his own life.”
Armed police had responded to a call at 2am local time (6pm Thursday GMT). Loud bangs and gunfire had been heard inside the casino. Dozens were injured trying to escape before police regained control. One witness, Julio Silva, said: “I heard many, many gunshots.” A fire was still burning in the building hours later. A military spokesman said: “We are monitoring the situation. The police are on top of the situation. We will issue a statement when we have a complete picture of the incident.” Terminal 3 at the nearby Ninoy Aquino airport has been closed, that is the terminal which handles international flights. A spokesman for the airport said in a statement: “Terminal 3 has been locked down because it is near the Resort World. We still don’t know how this will affect flights.”
The police and government may choose to claim the attack was not an act of terrorism, but the scale and nature suggests otherwise. The government in Manila is struggling to get control over IS-inspired militant inside its own borders. The Guardian today reported on the recent fighting in the south of the country:
“The Philippines’ armed forces have been fighting a militant faction sympathetic to Islamic State in the country’s south. A fierce 10-day battle has been raging in the city of Marawi, about 500 miles (800km) south of Manila, and, last week, the Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the southern region of Mindanao, arguing that the measure was necessary to crush a rising threat posed by Isis-linked rebels.
“In Marawi, the army has deployed helicopter gunships and artillery fire to try to dislodge the gunmen, but they have held a large section of the city.
“Over the past week, security forces have been deployed to other cities in Mindanao province, concerned that the militants may attempt to launch attacks outside Marawi.
“The clashes started after security forces tried to capture Isnilon Hapilon, an Islamist militant leader who is the subject of a $5m (£3.88m) reward offered by the FBI and endorsed by Isis.“
Isnilon Hapilon is believed to be a senior player in a coalition of insurgent groups in the Philippines, but his links with the Islamic State remain unclear. The clashes in the country have brought the country to the brink of martial law, which the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte believes may be necessary. This attack, especially if inspired by Islamic State, will fuel concerns in political circles in Manila that the “terrible ideology” of IS will spread throughout other parts of the country.
President Trump offered his condolences. Speaking from the White House Rose Garden he said: “It is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror.” He said he was “closely monitoring the situation.” He also described the attack as a “terrorist incident.”
Update: Sunday 4 June 2017
Police have identified the man who killed at least 36 people o Friday in Manila, Philippines. He is a Filipino named Jessie Javier Carlos. Police say he had heavy gambling debts and insist he was not a terrorist. Manila’s police chief, Oscar Albayalde said: “He is heavily indebted due to being hooked on casino gambling, according to his immediate family.”
Sources & Further Reading:
- Philippines police identify Manila casino killer – bbc.co.uk/news – 4 June 2017
- Philippines attack: dozens feared dead after Manila gunman sets fire to resort – theguardian.com – 2 June 2017 – Oliver Holmes in Manila, Kevin Rawlinson and agencies
- Resorts World Manila: At least 36 bodies found at casino complex – bbc.co.uk/news – 2 June 2017
- Panic in Manila: how the chaotic casino attack unfolded – theguardian.com – 2 June 2017 – by Oliver Holmes in Manila
- The Philippine ‘Suicide Squad’ saving civilians trapped on Isis frontline – theguardian.com – 1 June 2017 – by Oliver Holmes in Marawi, Philippines
- Hours After Fires, 36 Bodies Are Found at Manila Casino – nytimes.com – 1 June 2017
- After deadly rampage in Manila casino, authorities struggle to find answers – washingtonpost.com – 1 June 2017 – by Emily Rauhala and William Branigin