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Casino attack smoke kills 37

SMOKE rises from the Resorts World Manila Hotel and Casino in Pasay City as police secure the vicinity following an attack by an unidentified gunman (right photo)  early yesterday morning. (Ali Vicoy and Southern Police District)

SMOKE rises from the Resorts World Manila Hotel and Casino in Pasay City as police secure the vicinity following an attack by an unidentified gunman (right photo) early yesterday morning. (Ali Vicoy and Southern Police District)

by Martin A. Sadongdong

A gunman stormed a crowded casino in Pasay City early yesterday morning and used gasoline to set gambling tables on fire, creating clouds of smoke that swept through the crowds and killed at least 37 people, police said.

Twenty-two of the fatalities were guests while 13 were employees. Fifty-four persons were injured and taken to various hospitals.

Eighteen guests were identified as Caccam Katherine Cervantes, P Ling Hung Lee, Pacita Guillermo Comquilla, Pomenciano Vargas Jr., Susan Abulencia, Lai Wei Chung, Jaime Gaboy Jr., Ariel Abrogar, Lai Yu Cheeh, Cliff Reyneira, Rolando Pena Sison, Eluterio Reyes, Antonina Yuzon Allanigue, Sheila Malicse, Carmelita Taylo dela Cruz, Mielle Oliveros, Pamela Silvestre, and Elizabeth Gonzales. Four guests have yet to be identified.
Eleven of the employees were Hazel Yangco, Jellah Ramos, Melvin Herrera, Arvi Gavino, BJ Pagsibigan, Rojie Uy, Jessica Alindogan, Merylle Gwen Ala, Lea Grace Mozo, Loudette Santos, and Kay Nuguerra. Two employees are still being identified.

Two more bodies were retrieved yesterday afternoon.

The gunman, who had fled with more than $2 million in stolen casino chips, forced his way into a room in an adjoining hotel and killed himself.

Authorities suspect the man, who has not yet been identified, was trying to rob the casino at Resorts World Manila, a complex of hotels, restaurants, stores, and a sprawling multi-floor gambling area.

“Either he lost in the casino and wanted to recoup his losses or he went totally nuts,” said National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Oscar Albayalde.

While an Islamic State-linked Filipino said on social media that “lone wolf soldiers” of the Islamic State group were behind the attack, police noted the man didn’t shoot anyone he encountered. The only gunshot wound was a guard at the complex who accidentally shot himself, authorities said.

“He would have shot all the people gambling,” if his goal was terrorism, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald M. dela Rosa said. None of the bodies had gunshots, authorities said.

Police saw no connection to nearly two weeks of fighting with Muslim militants aligned with the Islamic State group in Marawi City.

Dela Rosa said security footage showed the gunman ignoring a guard who tried to question him at the complex’s entrance, then going straight to the casino. He stuffed a backpack with gambling chips, fired his assault rifle at TV screens, and set gambling tables on fire by pouring gasoline onto them from a two-liter bottle he carried, Dela Rosa said. It was not clear how he smuggled the gasoline and rifle into the crowded casino.

The gunman, who Dela Rosa described as “white, with a mustache,” about six feet tall and English speaking, fled the gambling area and barged into a room on the fifth floor of Maxims Hotel, which is part of the Resorts complex. He laid down on the bed, covered himself with a blanket, doused himself with gasoline, and then set himself on fire, Dela Rosa said. He carried no identity documents, police said.

The bag of high-value gambling chips – with an estimated worth of P113 million to P130 million or more than $2 million – was found in a toilet.

The attack sent hundreds of people fleeing through the complex and into the night. A South Korean died of a possible heart attack suffered during the evacuation, the Foreign Ministry said. More than 70 people suffered mostly minor injuries in the stampede to escape.

Ronald Romualdo, a maintenance worker at Resorts World, said he and his colleagues heard gunshots and saw people smashing the windows on the second and third floors 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 after she fell, but he didn’t know what happened to her.

A guest who was celebrating his wedding said he came face to face with the gunman as he went on a shooting spree.

Roscoe Fernandez said he was on the second floor of the building when he saw the gunman walking into the area. “He was wearing a bonnet and Kevlar vest. I couldn’t determine what kind of rifle he was carrying. I saw him, we are a few meters away from him,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said the gunman was indiscriminately firing upwards for about two minutes. “I didn’t see any companion pero he was indiscriminately firing upwards but he wasn’t shooting anyone kaya nataranta na kami we went to the fire exits.”

Fernandez said they locked themselves at the basement of the casino to ride out the incident for about an hour and a half. “Walang humahabol sa kanya na security kami lang ang tumatakbo. After that there were smoke coming out dun sa windows,” he added.

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 it was working to ensure the safety of guests and workers.

As news of the attack spread, President Donald Trump offered America’s thoughts and prayers 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 clashes in Marawi claimed “lone wolf soldiers” of the Islamic State 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.” (With reports from AP)

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