Terror doubted in Manila casino attack, robbery angle eyed

Terror doubted in Manila casino attack, robbery angle eyed
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An injured man lies on the floor after explosions rang out early Friday at the Resorts World Manila complex near Manila's international airport in the Philippine capital, sparking a security alarm amid an ongoing Muslim militant siege in the country's south. (Tikos Low via AP)
Terror doubted in Manila casino attack, robbery angle eyed
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Smoke rises from the Resorts World Manila complex early Friday following gunshots and explosions in an attack claimed by the Daesh international terrorist group. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Terror doubted in Manila casino attack, robbery angle eyed
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Evacuated employees and guests of hotels stand along a road and watch as smoke billows from a Resorts World building in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines early Friday. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro
Terror doubted in Manila casino attack, robbery angle eyed
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Emergency responders and security officials are parked outside as smoke rises from the Resorts World Manila complex early Friday in Manila, Philippines following gunshots and explosions. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Updated 02 June 2017

Terror doubted in Manila casino attack, robbery angle eyed

Terror doubted in Manila casino attack, robbery angle eyed

MANILA, Philippines: Gunshots and explosions erupted after midnight in a hotel and casino complex near Manila’s airport, sending hundreds fleeing into darkened streets early Friday in what police said was an attack by a lone gunman with no apparent links to terrorism.
A Filipino operative for the Daesh group, in a quick communique, immediately took responsibility for the attack. But police cast doubt on any such links and suggested robbery as a possible motive.
It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed in the attack or even if it had concluded.
Shots and loud bangs rang out shortly after midnight (1600 GMT) in the buildings close to Terminal Three of Ninoy Aquino International Airport and an air force base, prompting fears that a militant attack was under way.
Medical officials said at least 25 people were hurt, some seriously, as they rushed to escape.
The violence unfolded as Muslim militants aligned with the Daesh group fended off government forces for a 10th day in the southern city of Marawi. That unrest had sparked fears that the militants might attack elsewhere to divert the focus of thousands of troops trying to quell the siege.
But Director General Ronald Dela Rosa, national police chief in the Philippines, said there was no concrete evidence that the attack was terrorism. He said one gunman was behind the attack and was still at large more than two hours after it began.
“Don’t panic, this is not a cause for alarm. We cannot attribute this to terrorism,” he said.
“We are looking into a robbery angle because he did not hurt any people and went straight to the casino chips storage room. He parked at the second floor and barged into the casino, shooting large TV screens and poured gasoline on a table setting it on fire.”
Police were in the complex searching for the gunman, whom dela Rosa described as “foreign-looking, a Caucasian, about six feet tall.” The suspect may have escaped because smoke had obscured footage for CCTV cameras, he added.
It was not clear how the gunman smuggled enough gasoline into the crowded casino to cause explosions and what prompted Dela Rosa to rule out terrorism so quickly.
About 90 minutes after the attack began, Resorts World Manila said in its Facebook account that it was “currently on lockdown following reports of gunfire from unidentified men,” adding, “the company is working closely with the Philippine National Police to ensure that all guests and employees are safe.”
“We ask for your prayers during these difficult times,” the company said.
Philippine police cordoned off the area near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
“I heard many, many gunshots,” Julio Silva, a casino player who managed to dash out of the mall complex amid the gunfire, told DZMM radio network.
Silva said he saw a SWAT member who was shouting: “I was hit, I was hit.”
A DZMM radio reporter on the scene said she saw two ambulances ferrying two people away, one with a bandage on the leg and another in wheelchair.
As news of the attack 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. Trump said he was “closely monitoring the situation” and would continue to provide updates.
The SITE Intelligence Group, a US terrorism monitor, said an Islamic State-linked Filipino operative who provides daily updates on the ongoing clashes in Marawi claimed “lone wolf soldiers” of the Daesh group 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.”
President Rodrigo Duterte sent soldiers to the southern Philippines to end the siege by about 500 militants. Officials say 120 militants and at least 25 soldiers, five policemen and two dozen civilians have been killed in the fighting since early last week.
Duterte declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines, to crush the insurrection and poured in troops backed by airstrikes, artillery fire and armored vehicles.
The unrest has boosted fears that the Daesh group’s violent ideology is gaining a foothold in the country’s restive southern islands, where Muslim separatist rebellions have raged for nearly half a century.
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Associated Press journalists Joeal Calupitan and Alberto Marquez in Manila contributed to this report.