Panic in Manila: how the chaotic casino attack unfolded

Authorities offer competing theories on motivation after attack kills at least 36, mostly from suffocation, in Philippines capital

As the room in the Manila casino filled with dense, black smoke, employees and guests frantically smashed at thick windows that would not open.

Some managed to scramble out, finding themselves on a ledge several metres above the road. Those who jumped some of whom broke their legs were the lucky ones. The Philippines government said at least 36 people had died, mostly due to suffocation.

We took out a ladder to save them. We were able to save many of them, Ronald Romualdo, a maintenance worker who rushed over with a ladder said. One woman I was trying to save fell from the second floor.

The smoke came from a fire started when a gunman set light to gasoline that he had poured on poker tables in the casino in Resorts World a sprawling mall complex that also encompasses a Marriott hotel and luxury shops, five minutes walk from the capitals international airport.

Initial fears were of a terrorist attack, in possible revenge for a military campaign against Islamic State sympathisers in the south. Videos published online showed people fleeing as several loud bangs and the crack of gunfire is heard. In the chaos and panic, people ran into the streets screaming Isis, Isis.

As the fires were still raging, Donald Trump characterised the incident as a terrorist attack. Later on Friday Isis claimed responsibility via its Amaq news agency.

Offering an alternative theory, the fire department told local media that the suspect had been a longtime guest at the casino hotel and suggested the motive may have been retaliation for losing significant gambling money. Philippine police, however, said it was a botched robbery.

All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual, Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, told reporters.

Manila map

On Friday evening in Manila, key questions remained unanswered. It had not even been confirmed if the assailant had meant to kill. Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to do harm or shoot anyone, Abella said.

A guard accidentally shot himself during the raid, according to authorities, but there were no other firearm attacks. An employee at a nearby hospital said no patients had bullet wounds.

Local police said most victims were found dead inside the bathroom, suggesting many had tried to hide from the gunfire rather than flee.

Ian Manalo, a Bureau of Fire Protection spokesman, told Reuters the gunman placed 9mm ammunition on a gaming table which he then set on fire, causing bullets to shoot off randomly and sending those inside ducking for cover.

Thats why they died of suffocation because they hid instead of exiting. Instead of rushing to the fire exit, they hid from the exploding bullets, he said. The sprinkler system functioned so the fire did not spread. The problem was the smoke.

Armed with an assault rifle, the man was captured on CCTV in jeans, a black hat and jacket. At one point, he was filmed sitting down on the stairs.

Police director general Ronald dela Rosa said he walked right past a guard and fired bullets at televisions, before shooting a door to the storage room where gambling chips were kept.

The suspect, described as 6ft and foreign-looking by Dela Rosa, took the chips [and] put them inside his backpack, but eventually left it. He said at least 113m Philippine pesos (1.7m) in chips were taken but police did not comment on why the gunmen might steal them. Casino tokens are often specific to the business where they are used and have no outside value.



figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> CCTV captures of the suspected attacker at the Resorts World Manila hotel and casino complex. Photograph: Philippine national police/EPA

The man proceeded to douse rooms with gasoline from a two-litre bottle. A raging fire spread fast across carpeted floors and felt-covered tables.Even the security personnel panicked, casino guest Jeff Santos told a Philippine radio station. Definitely us patrons we did not expect that everyone ran away.

Bodies were found in the blackened gambling room. It was not clear if the sprinklers had worked.

Nobody was taken hostage and the gunman ended up in a hotel room, number 510. Dela Rosa said he lay down on the bed, covered himself in a thick blanket and apparently doused himself in gasoline.

Regardless of his intentions, the torching of the entertainment complex has stunned the nation and put the country on alert. At least 54 people were injured, some seriously. Four Taiwan nationals and a South Korean were among the dead. Resorts World said the dead included 13 employees and 22 guests.

Members of its in-house security team had been able to shoot the gunman during his rampage, the company said in a statement. 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, Resorts World said, although police did not corroborate that report.

We are doing our very best to inform the families of the victims, the company added.

On Friday evening, a team from the Red Cross had set up a stall to provide psychological support to friends and relatives of the victims. The nearest airport terminal to the complex was temporarily locked down, a spokesperson told the Guardian, but flights were operating normally.

Security forces sealed off the block, with several ambulances and fire trucks remaining at the scene. Broken glass lay in front of a closed Cartier store and a curtain hung from a smashed window.

Police are now searching for a second person of interest, believed to be a Philippine national. Resorts World disputed that there was more than one assailant.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report

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