36 dead af­ter gun­man torches casino

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MANOLO SERAPIO JR AND NEIL JEROME MO­RALES

MANILA: A gun­man burst into a casino in the Philip­pine cap­i­tal, set­ting gam­ing ta­bles alight and killing at least 36 peo­ple who suf­fo­cated in thick smoke, in an at­tack claimed by Is­lamic State but which of­fi­cials say was a botched rob­bery.

The gun­man killed him­self in a ho­tel room af­ter be­ing shot and wounded by se­cu­rity guards at the Re­sorts World Manila en­ter­tain­ment com­plex yes­ter­day, po­lice said.

A sec­ond “per­son of in­ter­est” who was in the casino at the time was co-op­er­at­ing with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Most of the dead suf­fo­cated. Many guests and staff had tried to hide rather than get out of the build­ing when the at­tack be­gan, the fire brigade said.

“Is­lamic State fight­ers car­ried out the Manila at­tack in the Philip­pines,” the mil­i­tant group’s Amaq news agency said.

But that was re­jected by National Se­cu­rity ad­viser Her­mo­genes Esperon. Po­lice said they were not look­ing at other mo­tives.

“If the lone gun­man was re­ally an IS ter­ror­ist, why did he not shoot and kill peo­ple in the casino? He only went for the casino chips,” Esperon said.

The IS claim, which came nearly 24 hours af­ter the at­tack, also con­tra­dicted Ernesto Abella, a spokesper­son for Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte.

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

Os­car Al­bay­alde, chief of the cap­i­tal’s po­lice, said those who died were in the casino’s main gam­ing area.

“What caused their deaths is the thick smoke,” he said. “The room was car­peted and, of course, the ta­bles, highly com­bustible.”

At dawn, the body of the sus­pected gun­man was found in a ho­tel room in the smoul­der­ing com­plex, which is close to Manila’s air­port and an air force base, po­lice said.

“He burned him­self in­side the ho­tel room 510,” national po­lice chief Ron­ald dela Rosa said. “He lay down on the bed, cov­ered him­self in a thick blan­ket and ap­par­ently doused him­self in gaso­line.”

Re­sorts World chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Stephen Reilly said casino guards had shot and wounded the gun­man – armed with what au­thor­i­ties de­scribed as a “baby Ar­malite” – dur­ing the at­tack.

“Se­vere loss of blood from the gun­shot wound sig­nif­i­cantly slowed down the as­sailant and re­sulted to his hol­ing up in the room where he took his own life,” Reilly said.

Of­fi­cials said at least 54 peo­ple were hurt, some se­ri­ously, as they rushed to es­cape.

Survivor Mag­dalena Ramos said peo­ple be­gan shout­ing “Isis! Isis!” when the gun­fire be­gan. – Reuters

Closed-cir­cuit footage shows the gun­man at the Re­sorts World Manila com­plex.

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