A gunman burst into a casino in the Philippine capital on Friday, 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 believe was a botched robbery.
The gunman killed himself in a hotel room after being shot and wounded by security officers at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex, police said. A second “person of interest” who was in the casino at the time was cooperating with the investigation, police said.
Most of the dead suffocated in the chaos. Many guests and staff had tried to hide from the gunfire rather than get out of the building when attack began shortly after midnight (1600 GMT) and fell victim to the smoke, the fire bureau said, reports Reuters.
“Islamic State fighters carried out the Manila attack in the Philippines,” the militant group’s Amaq news agency said.
But that was quickly rejected by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, who said all the evidence pointed to an attempt to steal casino chips. Police said they were not looking at other motives.
“This is plain and simple propaganda,” Esperon told Reuters.
“If the lone gunman was really an IS terrorist, why did he not shot and kill people in the casino? He only went for the casino chips.”
The IS claim, which came nearly 24 hours after the attack, also contradicted a statement from Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, who said there was no evidence linking it to fighting between government troops and Islamist militants in the country’s south.
“All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual,” Abella told a news conference. “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 office, said those who died were in the casino’s main gaming area.
“What caused their deaths is the thick smoke,” he told reporters. “The room was carpeted and of course the tables, highly combustible.”