Manila casino attack: Philippine authorities hunt for clues to identify gunman

Manila: Philippine authorities said on Saturday they still did not know the identity of the gunman who killed 37 people when he torched a casino, but insisted he was not an Islamic State group terrorist.

The masked man stormed into the Resorts World casino and hotel complex in the capital of Manila on Friday with an M4 automatic rifle and a bottle of petrol, before setting alight one of the main gaming rooms.

Thirty-seven people died in the fire, dozens more were injured in a stampede to escape, and the gunman was found dead about five hours later in a hotel room after committing suicide by setting fire to himself, police said.

Smoke rises from the Resorts World Manila complex early Friday where a gunman shot 37 people dead. AP

Smoke rises from the Resorts World Manila complex early on Friday where a gunman shot 37 people dead. AP

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, with a report on its self-styled Amaq news agency saying its "fighters" carried out the attack, but Philippine authorities continued to insist on Saturday that a mentally disturbed man had been attempting a bizarre solo robbery.

"They (Islamic State) 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."

However, Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde told AFP today they had not identified the gunman.

"We are doing everything we can to identify this person and ensure the safety of our countrymen," he said on government radio.

Albayalde also added to a bewildering array of contradictory messages from authorities in the initial stages of the investigation by saying police now believed the gunman had arrived at the casino in a taxi.

"We are looking at the taxi driver who may be able to identify him."

But Albayalde and other police chiefs said repeatedly throughout Friday that recorded security footage showed the gunman drove to the casino and parked his vehicle in the complex's car park.

"The CCTV (footage) shows that he parked his car, took out his gun and directly went inside Resorts World," Albayalde said on Friday.

There was no explanation from police Saturday for the change in such a crucial part of the investigation.

Police had also given confusing or contradictory statements on other key parts of the incident on Friday.

National police chief Ronald dela Rosa initially said police had shot the gunman dead, but then later reported the assailant wrapped himself in a blanket and burnt himself to death.

Police alight from their vehicle outside a hotel at the Resorts World Manila complex on early Friday after a gunman killed 37 people. AP

Police alight from their vehicle outside a hotel at the Resorts World Manila complex on Friday after a gunman killed 37 people. AP

Dela Rosa also said the gunman had not shot anyone, but Resorts World reported one of its security guards had suffered a gunshot wound.

Albayalde said on Friday that the assailant was likely a foreigner, describing him as a Caucasian who spoke English.

Albayalde and Dela Rosa added that the man was trying to rob the casino, saying he fired at a stock room containing gambling chips and filled a backpack with chips worth 113 million pesos (USD 2.3 million).

But they said the gunman later left the backpack in a bathroom after filling it up.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law last week across the southern region of Mindanao to crush what he called a rising threat from the Islamic State.

He made the move shortly after local militants who have declared allegiance to Islamic State went on a rampage through the city of Marawi, about 800 kilometres south of Manila.

Security forces are still battling the militants in Marawi, and the clashes there have left at least 175 people dead.

A Muslim separatist rebellion in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines has killed more than 120,000 people since the 1970s.

The main Muslim rebel groups have signed accords with the government aimed at forging lasting peace, giving up their separatist ambitions in return for autonomy.

Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 16:57 PM

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