Dozens killed after gunman storms casino-hotel and sets fire to gambling tables
Thirty-six people suffocated from smoke after a gunman stormed a casino-hotel complex in the Philippines and set fire to gambling tables, police have said.
Metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said none of the bodies had gunshot wounds.
Authorities said earlier they believed robbery was the motive for the attack at the Resorts World Manila, which sent people fleeing into the streets during the night, with dozens suffering minor injuries during the stampede.
The suspect was found dead early on Friday, having apparently committed suicide, and gambling chips were also recovered.
The attack prompted a claim of responsibility from the Islamic State terror group, but police stressed they had no evidence to support it.
The violence unfolded as government forces were engaged in a second week of fighting against Muslim militants aligned with IS in the southern city of Marawi.
"He would have shot all the people gambling there" if it had been terrorism, national police chief Ronald dela Rosa said. "But he did not hurt anyone."
"It's either he lost in the casino and wanted to recoup his losses or he went totally nuts," Mr Albayalde said, adding he saw no connection to the fighting in Marawi.
Mr dela Rosa said security footage showed the gunman ignoring a guard who tried to question him at the entrance to the complex.
He did not hurt the guard but went straight to the gambling area.
The gunman stole gambling chips, shot up TV screens and set gambling tables on fire by by pouring petrol on them, Mr dela Rosa said.
It was not clear how the gunman smuggled petrole and an assault rifle into the crowded casino, but he did not fire at people he encountered.
The only gunshot wound was to a guard at the complex, who shot himself accidentally when the suspect entered the room, authorities said.
Ronald Romualdo, a maintenance worker at Resorts World, said he and his colleagues heard gunshots and saw people smashing the windows on the second floor and third floor to escape.
"We took out a ladder to save them. We were able to save many of them," he said.
"But one woman I was trying to save fell from the second floor. I could not carry her."
He said the woman was not moving afterwards, but he did not know what happened to her.
About 90 minutes after the attack began, Resorts World Manila said on its Facebook page that it was on lockdown following reports of gunfire and was working to ensure the safety of guests and workers.
Mr dela Rosa said the gunman apparently barged into a room on the 5th floor of the Maxims hotel connected to the mall and casino, where he set himself on fire.
A bag of gambling chips worth 113 million pesos (£176,500) was found in a toilet.
The suspect was English-speaking but had no identification cards.
Mr dela Rosa described him as "white, with a moustache" and about 6ft.
He said the man's car in the complex car park was being examined.
As news of the attack had spread, US president Donald Trump offered the thoughts and prayers of the American people to the Philippines.
"It is really very sad as to what's going on throughout the world with terror," he said from the White House Rose Garden.
The SITE Intelligence Group, a US terrorism monitor, said an IS-linked Filipino operative who provides daily updates on the clashes in Marawi claimed "lone wolf soldiers" of IS were responsible for the attack.
An English message by the operative was distributed across several pro-IS Telegram chat groups, SITE said.
According to SITE, he wrote: "The lone wolf soldiers of Khilafah attack the heart of Kufar the city of Manila in Resort World."
The unrest in Marawi had sparked fears that militants might attack elsewhere to divert the focus of thousands of troops trying to quell the siege.
But Mr dela Rosa said: "We cannot attribute this to terrorism without concrete evidence."
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said one South Korean died after being evacuated from the casino after suffering an apparent heart attack while resting after the evacuation.
Casinos in the Philippines are popular with foreign gamblers.
Mr Albayalde said thick smoke trapped people in the gambling area.
The gunman carried a two-litre bottle of petrol, the gambling area was carpeted and the tables were also made of combustible materials, he said.
"The bodies were found in the gaming area of the casino," he said.
Mr Albayalde said the gunman entered the building alone, based on security video footage, and "from the time he barged in and until the end, he was alone".
Independent News Service