MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Philippine police said the man behind the shooting incident at a posh casino and hotel In Pasay City on Friday, June 2, was “apparently mentally disturbed," as they debunked claims it was a terror attack.
National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Oscar Albayalde made the statement in a Palace news briefing on Friday, where he explained why authorities did not see the incident, for now, as an act of terrorism.
“We cannot relate it to terrorism because he did not shoot anybody. Wala siyang sinaktan; wala siyang binaril (He did not hurt anybody; he did not shoot anybody),” said Albayalde, who was at the scene of the incident minutes after Resorts World Manila management asked for police assistance.
“He went inside, burned the gaming tables at pinagbabaril niya (began shooting at) the doorknob of the storage where the chips were kept and he stole P113 million worth of casino chips,” added Albayalde.
Police also noted that the gunman fired warning shots aimed at the ceiling, and not at the people, and also did not shoot at people as he made his way around the establishment.
At least 36 customers and employees of Resorts World died in the incident – not because of bullets, but because of the fire that the gunman started in the casino. They died of suffocation.
“That’s the result of his criminal act but that doesn’t mean his acts can be attributed to terrorism,” said Albayalde.
He explained that the thick, black smoke had enveloped the casino area, after the carpet and gambling tables were set on fire. The gunman apparently brought with him two liters of gasoline which he used to set the casino area, and later himself, on fire, Albayalde said.
Not ruling out ISIS yet
At the Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella reiterated the position taken by authorities that the incident was not related to the ongoing clashes between local terrorist groups and government forces in Marawi City.
"This particular situation in Manila is not related in any way to a terrorist attack," Abella said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, however, was not discounting possible links of the incident to terrorism just yet.
“The police and intel people are investigating. We are not yet ruling out that this is an ISIS act. It is so easy for ISIS to claim responsibility. Whether true or ISIS is just riding onto a done act, we still do not know,” he said.
Before the gunman died, SITE, a terrorism monitoring group, reported that a Filipino operative working with the Maute group claimed responsibility for ISIS. US President Donald Trump also branded it a "terrorist attack." (READ: U.S 'closely monitoring' Resorts World Manila shooting – Trump)
At the Palace briefing, Albayalde and Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said that they had not monitored any ISIS presence in Metro Manila.
Following the incident, the US, UK, and Australian embassies in Manila issued warned their nationals to "exercise caution" while in the national capital.
Doubts on robbery angle
Early in the day, police led by Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said the motive for the attack was apparently to "rob" the casino, as the gunman headed to the storage room of the casino chips and took P113 million worth of chips.
Albayalde said at the news briefing around noon that the police had some doubts on robbery as a possible motive for the attack.
“Baka talunan ito sa casino eh. 'Yung possible motivation niya is robbery but the only thing, hindi mo puwede ipapalit 'yun…at iniwan niya 'yun sa kubeta (Maybe he lost a lot at the casino. His possible motivation is robbery but the only thing is, you can’t exchange those chips just anywhere. And he left the chips in the bathroom),” said the police general.
Albayalde said the gunman – whose identify they have yet to confirm – acted alone, from the time he left his car to the end. CCTV footage provided to media by police show the gunman, wearing a black bonnet and carrying a baby armalite, in one of the stairwells in the casino complex.
The gunman eventually killed himself, according to police. He was found in one of the hotel rooms on the 5th floor of the nearby hotel. Police believe he set the room on fire before shooting himself in the head.
Albayalde explained that the gunman had been moving around even while police were already in the building, moving from one floor to another and even engaging cops in an encounter.
Resorts World Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly said, however, that hotel security managed to shoot the gunman, who sustained a significant wound on his thigh which slowed him down.
He also corrected the police statement that a hotel security guard accidentally shot himself. Reilly said the man sustained the gunshot wound from the gunman, which was confirmed by Chief Superintendent Tomas Apolinario, Southern Police District chief.
Reilly also corrected "false reports" that there were two gunmen at the hotel.
Guests and employees of Resorts World, a popular casino and entertainment hub, reported hearing gunshots a little past midnight June 2. People were evacuated from the casino and nearby hotel, as police and other emergency personnel rushed to the scene. – Rappler.com