At least 34 bodies were found in the Resort World Manila leisure complex after a gunman attack, the Philippines capital’s fire officials told local TV. Police suspect the attacker was a thief, not a terrorist, but he started a fire that caused mass suffocation.
Most of the victims are believed to have suffocated in the smoke, which filled the building after the unidentified gunman used a canister of gasoline to start fire at the casino earlier on Thursday night. The gunman, armed with an assault rifle, was probably trying to steal casino chips, Philippines police chief Ronald dela Rosa told media.
The attacker has reportedly been described as a tall, English-speaking man with a pale complexion.
The death toll was reported by Manila TV ANC News channel, quoting Bureau of Fire Protection sources.
Meanwhile, the resort’s owner, Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc. said in a statement that “we have been informed of several casualties, the number and identities of whom have yet to be determined.”
The police chief said that the suspected gunman was later found dead in a hotel room after apparently committing suicide.
“He burned himself inside the hotel room 510 … He lay down on the bed, covered himself in a thick blanket and apparently doused himself in gasoline,” dela Rosa said.
Panic quickly spread when the man, armed with a rifle, entered the casino, with reports describing a stampede and people jumping out of windows. More than 50 people were reportedly treated in hospitals for various injuries and smoke inhalation.
With an Islamist insurgency flaring in the Philippine city of Marawi, the initial assumption of both visitors and the media was a jihadist attack. Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants were also quick to claim responsibility.
However, police quickly refuted the claim by suggesting the incident was a botched robbery, telling the residents “not to panic.”