A man who fired shots inside a casino in the Philippine capital apparently killed himself on Friday (Jun 2), the national police chief said, after initially claiming police shot the assailant dead.
“The lone gunman is already neutralised. He is dead. He burned himself inside the hotel room,” police chief Ronald Dela Rosa told reporters outside.
“He lay down on the bed, covered himself with a thick blanket, apparently poured petrol on the blanket and burned himself.”
Dela Rosa made the comments about an hour after claiming in a television interview that police had shot the gunman dead.
“He’s dead. He was killed by our troops,” Dela Rosa had told the GMA television network.
Dela Rosa did not explain to reporters why he initially claimed police killed the man.
LIKELY MOTIVE ROBBERY: POLICE
Earlier, people ran screaming out of Resorts World Manila, which is across a road from one of the main terminals of the Philippines’ international airport, after the gunman fired what police chief dela Rosa said was an M4 assault rifle.
“There hasn’t been anyone shot … there are only injuries from people who tried to escape in a stampede or from smoke,” Dela Rosa said on DZMM radio.
Officials said at least 30 people were hurt, some seriously, as they rushed to escape.
Police have said that the likely motive was robbery.
Dela Rosa said the gunman, who appeared to be acting alone, walked into one of the gambling 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 them. The man then left the room and went upstairs to a hotel section of the complex, according to dela Rosa.
Windows were smashed on the second floor of the complex just before daylight broke, but it was unclear why and by nearly 6am police did not report any breakthrough in the hunt for the gunman.
The Islamic State group immediately claimed responsibility.
IS said “lonewolf soldiers” from its group carried out the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group that monitors terrorist organisations.
But dela Rosa said: “We cannot attribute this to terrorism.” He said it may have just have been an attempted robbery, pointing out the gunman tried to steal the gambling chips.
People inside the casino recounted feelings of terror when the shooting occurred.
“I was about to return to the second floor from my break when I saw people running. Some hotel guests said someone yelled ‘ISIS’,” Maricel Navaro, an employee of Resorts World, told DZMM radio.
“Guests were screaming. We went to the basement locker room and hid there. People were screaming, guests and employees were in panic,” Navaro said.
“When we smelled smoke, we decided to go for the exit in the carpark. That’s where we got out. Before we exited, we heard two gunshots and there was thick smoke on the ground floor.”
The local Pasay Chapter of the Philippine Red Cross said 25 people had been taken to hospital.
Jeri Ann Santiago, who works in the emergency room at the San Juan de Dios hospital, close to Resorts World, said 13 people were being treated, but more were on the way.
Most of the patients were suffering the effects of smoke inhalation and some had injuries such as fractures, she said, adding that none had gunshot wounds.
Local media reports said that police, fire trucks and a SWAT team were in the area.
Resorts World Manila is currently in lockdown following the reports of gunfire from unidentified men, the company said earlier on its Twitter account. It added that it was working closely with the Philippine National Police to ensure that all guests and employees were safe.
“We ask for your prayers during these difficult times,” it said.
ABS-CBN cited eyewitnesses saying that armed men, wearing masks and black shirts, fired shots and burned tables.
Another employee told GMA News said that five shots were fired from the third floor before they were told to leave the establishment.
Resorts World Manila chief operating officer Stephen Reilly subsequently told local journalists in a media conference: “We’re searching the area as much as we can, to make sure the building is clear.”
However Mr Reilly would not confirm how many gunmen were in the building, and said that he did not yet know of any reported injuries.
A casino worker from the third floor of the complex, named Julio, told DZMM radio he heard many gunshots and saw people running up the stairs from the second floor.
Ronald Romualdo, a maintenance worker at Resorts World, told the station he saw a woman fall from an upper floor while trying to escape. “Several people were injured,” he said.
Resorts World Manila is a popular tourist destination opposite Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. It comprises hotels, a casino complex and a shopping mall.
The US State Department issued an alert for travellers to avoid the area.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law last week across the southern region of Mindanao to crush what he said was a rising threat of Islamic State there.
He declared martial law shortly after militants went on a rampage through the southern city of Marawi, which is about 800 kilometres south of Manila.
Security forces are still battling the militants in Marawi, and the clashes there have left at least 171 people dead.
Duterte said last week he may need to declare martial law across the rest of the country if the terrorism threat spread.
A Muslim separatist rebellion in the southern 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.
However a range of hardline militants groups have rejected the peace process and in recent years have sought to unite behind IS.