A masked gunman set fire to a gaming room of the upscale Resorts World Manila entertainment complex in the Philippine capital on Friday, igniting a toxic blaze that killed at least 36 people, authorities said, believing it was a botched robbery attempt and insisting it was not a terrorist attack.
The victims suffocated inside one of the venues, while dozens of other people were injured in a panicked crush to escape, police said.
The gunman committed suicide inside a hotel room by burning himself about five hours after storming the resort with an M4 assault rifle and a bottle of petrol that he used to start the fire, police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa and other police chiefs insisted the assailant was not carrying out a terrorist attack, pointing out he did not shoot anyone, and said it appeared to be a bizarre robbery attempt by a “deranged” man.
“This is not an act of terror. There is no element of violence, threat or intimidation that leads to terrorism,” Dela Rosa told reporters.
This particular situation in Manila is not related in any way to a terrorist attack,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told a media conference.
“All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual,” Abella said. “Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to do harm or shoot
Despite their claims, ISIS’ Amaq news agency claimed responsibility for the attack.
Dela Rosa said the man, acting alone, walked into one of the gaming rooms and fired the rifle at a large television screen, then poured gasoline onto a gambling table and set it alight.
He said the man then fired again at a stock room containing gambling chips and filled a backpack with chips worth 113 million pesos ($2.3 million).
The man left the room and went upstairs to the hotel section, but left the backpack, according to Dela Rosa.
The police chief said 18 of 54 injured people were in hospital. He said the others sustained only minor injuries.
Videos posted earlier on social media showed people fleeing as several loud bangs were heard.