Duterte: Casino gunman not a terrorist

People lighting candles at the entrance of the Resorts World Manila hotel and casino complex to pay respects to victims of the attack. An investigator said in a radio interview that the gunman was likely a Filipino, contrary to previous reports that
People lighting candles at the entrance of the Resorts World Manila hotel and casino complex to pay respects to victims of the attack. An investigator said in a radio interview that the gunman was likely a Filipino, contrary to previous reports that he could be a foreigner.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Philippine leader supports police theory that attack was a botched robbery

The Philippine authorities have struggled to piece together clues that could shed light on a baffling overnight attack on Friday at a hotel and casino complex in Manila, even as President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he does not believe the gunman was a terrorist.

"That is not the work of ISIS. The work of ISIS is more cruel, brutal," said Mr Duterte, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which on Friday claimed responsibility for the attack.

He supported the police's theory that it was a robbery gone awry. "Why would you steal plastics you can't use?" he asked, referring to millions worth of casino chips that the gunman tried to steal from a storage room at Resorts World Manila.

Questions were raised yesterday over the identity and motive of the attacker, as the death toll in one of country's largest mass killings rose to 38.

Confusion arose as investigators revised the information about the attack released earlier by top police officials. Investigators had yet to identify the attacker, but one said in a radio interview yesterday he was likely a Filipino, contrary to previous reports that he was tall and "Caucasian-looking" and could be a foreigner.

Security and police officials insisted that the gunman was not a terrorist, despite claims by ISIS and senior lawmaker Pantaleon Alvarez that it was a "lone wolf" attack.

In an effort to disprove the terrorist angle, officials of Resort World Manila released CCTV footage to show where the gunman was and what he did that day. It showed that he arrived at the casino at 12.07am on Friday in a taxi, wearing a black jacket and carrying a big backpack. The taxi driver who brought him said the man was speaking fluently in Tagalog.

Director-General Ronald de la Rosa, the national police chief, had told reporters earlier that the suspect came in a car.

The CCTV footage showed the gunman going to the parking area and taking a lift to the second floor. He put on a bonnet to cover his face. On the second floor, he side- stepped a body scanner and headed straight to the casino.

A female guard ran after him. He then pulled an M4 assault rifle out of his bag, triggering a stampede.

More than 12,000 guests and employees were at the complex then, according to Resorts World Manila's chief security officer Armeen Gomez.

The gunman made his way to the casino floor and set ablaze gaming tables, slot machines and a dining area. He walked across a bar, where he fired his gun in the air.

Minutes later, he was seen shooting at the doorknob of a room where casino chips were kept. He managed to get inside the room but could not find any cash. He stuffed his bag instead with 113 million pesos (S$3.1 million) worth of casino chips.

He was making his way to the basement when he ran into a couple of hotel guards. There was an exchange of gunfire.

Later footage showed him removing his bonnet, with blood on his face, and lumbering through a stairwell towards the fifth floor of the hotel. There, he lit up bed sheets stashed inside a trolley and spread them on the floor. He forced his way into Room 510, where hotel security and special police units found him already engulfed in flames and with the tip of his rifle pointing towards his mouth.

"(ISIS) may claim credit but, according to evidence, it is not so," presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said. "The evidence at this stage points to the actions of an emotionally disturbed person who was apparently engaged in criminal actions."

Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde, police chief in metropolitan Manila, said at a news briefing where the CCTV footage was shown: "As you can plainly see, if he was a terrorist, with the ammunition he had, he could've shot everybody there. He changed magazines at least three times, but he didn't fire at anybody."

Mr Gomez from Resorts World Manila's security said: "If he was a terrorist, he would've shot at everyone. His goal would've been maximum kill, for maximum effect."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 04, 2017, with the headline 'Duterte: Casino gunman not a terrorist'. Print Edition | Subscribe