Casino Attack Leaves Dozens Dead in Philippine Capital

Felipe Villamor
170602-PH-mourners-1000 Relatives of a victim cry outside the Maxims hotel after a masked gunman set fire to a gaming room at the hotel’s casino in the Philippine capital, June 1, 2017.

Updated at 6:42 p.m. ET on 2017-06-02

An attack on a popular casino-hotel in Manila left at least 38 people dead, including a gunman who had fired shots and set the place ablaze with gasoline before killing himself, police and hotel management said Friday.

The bodies of 22 guests and 13 hotel workers who died of apparent smoke inhalation and suffocation, according to police, were discovered as rescuers were clearing the Maxims hotel inside the Resorts World Manila, a top executive with the resort said.

Later in the day, Manila Southern Police District Chief Supt. Tomas Apolinario told reporters that the bodies of two other victims, women who were killed after a part of the ceiling fell on them, had also been recovered. At least 54 other people were injured, police said.

The discovery of dozen of bodies occurred hours after National Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa announced that the violence had been contained with the death of the gunman, who had yet to be identified.

“It is with deep regret that we confirm that there were 35 casualties in this tragic incident, of which 13 are employees and 22 are guests. The identities of two employees and four guests are still being validated as of this time,” said Stephen James Reilly, chief operating officer of the Resorts World Manila hotel, in sharing earlier death-toll figures given by police.

“We are doing our very best to inform the families of the victims,” Reilly said. “We are extending all forms of assistance to the affected next-of-kin. We are one in mourning with the families of those affected by this tragedy.”

The gunman, described by police as a tall Caucasian with a mustache and who spoke English, started the blaze after bursting into the hotel-casino near Manila International Airport and firing off shots in what authorities believed was a robbery attempt. The fire engulfed floors where guests were trapped.

The suspected gunman is shown in this screen grab from closed-circuit TV security footage as he stood near the fire exit of Maxims hotel at the Resorts World Manila, June 2, 2017. [AFP Photo / Southern Police District]

Terror act?

Throughout the rest of Friday, an array of senior police officers at the national and regional level, as well as the national security adviser, played down reports that this was a terrorist act carried out by an Islamic State supporter.

Police insisted that only one gunman was involved in the attack – the boldest one to date targeting a first-class hotel in the Philippine capital – but, as a precautionary measure, they said security personnel were deployed as the crisis unfolded to search the area for other possible gunmen, after reports emerged that IS had claimed responsibility for the incident.

Soon after the hotel was attacked, the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online communications of extremist groups, reported that “an Islamic State (IS) Filipino operative who provides daily updates on the ongoing clashes in Marawi stated that the group is responsible for the attack at Resorts World Manila.”

Later on Friday, according to SITE, the Amaq news agency affiliated with Islamic State posted a brief statement in Arabic on Telegram, saying “Islamic State fighters carried out the attack in Manila in the Philippines yesterday.”

But Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesman for the Philippine Armed Forces, said that the IS claim of responsibility “does not corroborate the facts on the ground.”

“As it is, the Resorts World incident has the signature of a criminal act that needs deeper investigation to ascertain the real motive behind,” he said in a statement. “It does not have the slightest signature of terrorism whatsoever.”

The attack took place as government forces were locked in gun battles with IS-linked militants in the southern city of Marawi that were still going on after 10 days.

On Friday, President Rodrigo Dutere made no public comments about the hotel attack.

But his spokesman, Ernesto Abella, issued a statement saying authorities were looking into it “as an isolated incident involving robbery.”

“This is a reminder that civilized society has no place for this kind of violence,” Abella said.

“The safety of citizens and the security of communities are our primordial concerns, and we hope to seek everybody’s cooperation to achieve a peaceful and fear-free environment.”

Fiery end

Police said the suspect made off with more than U.S. $2 million worth of gaming chips after bursting into the casino-hotel just after midnight Thursday (local time) firing his weapon. The chips were later found dumped in a hotel toilet, according to one report.

Witnesses said the suspect was armed with an M4 “Baby Armalite” – a shorter version of the M-16 assault rifle – and he carried a canister of gasoline. He shot out some video screens and then used the gasoline to set tables on fire, according to police.

According to Reilly, the resort executive, responding security personnel were “able to shoot and wound the gunman that attacked” the hotel early Friday (local time).

“Severe blood loss from the gunshot wound significantly slowed the assailant down and resulted to his holing up in a room where he took his own life,” he said, adding that one security staff had been wounded.

The suspect later committed suicide in one of the hotel rooms, police said.

“He lay down on the bed, covered himself with a thick blanket, apparently poured petrol on the blanket and burned himself,” Dela Rosa said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Among other casualties, 54 people were injured in the fire, of whom 18 were hospitalized, the police chief said.

‘Where is Hazel?’

Gil Yongco, whose daughter Hazel worked at the hotel, reached the hotel grounds shortly after news of the fire broke out. But there was no one to confirm the whereabouts of his 29-year-old daughter.

Yongco said he had to fight off first responders because he was frantic to see his daughter alive, even though he suspected that she might be among the casualties.

“Where is Hazel?” he called out desperately to policemen while his wife, Cathy, sat quietly at the curbside.

A hotel employee later said she had grabbed Hazel Yongco’s phone as they ran out because she had dropped it. When she turned back, Hazel Yongco, a table supervisor at Resorts World, was gone.

She was among those missing since early Friday, when a gunman who, police said, appeared to be crazy walked into the hotel with an assault rifle and started shooting and setting the place on fire.

Later in the day, Philippine authorities announced that Hazel had died, AFP reported.

Smoke billows from the Resorts World Manila hotel casino after a gunman set a fire inside, June 2, 2017. [Felipe Villamor/BenarNews]

‘Chaos everywhere’

Like Gil Yongco, casino high roller Arianne Johnson, 39, was searching for some of the eight people she used to hang out with at the casino. She said she only knew her friends by their first names, but that she had grown fond of them on the slot-machine floor.

When the alarm sounded, she said people started running from the second floor, as bursts of gunfire rang out.

“We were running, people were shouting. It was chaos everywhere,” Johnson said.

On Friday morning, after the sun had risen but the smoke from the huge fire had not cleared and the dozens of bodies had not been found, police chief Dela Rosa spoke to reporters.

He told them that CCTV footage showed no evidence of the suspect having taken any hostages.

“Up to this time, we can’t say this is an act of terror. Why? Because he has done no other violent act inside, aside from stealing chips and shooting at a TV,” Dela Rosa said.

“He did not hurt anyone. If you were a terrorist, you want to sow terror. You would have gunned down people,” he added.

Staff at the Resorts World Hotel in Manila light candles and offer flowers in memory of colleagues and guests who died in a blaze after a gunman allegedly attacked the casino-hotel, June 2, 2017.

Staff at the Resorts World Hotel in Manila light candles and offer flowers in memory of colleagues and guests who died in a blaze after a gunman allegedly attacked the casino-hotel, June 2, 2017. [Felipe Villamor/BenarNews]


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