POLICE scrambled to determine the identity of the masked gunman who attacked the Resorts World hotel and casino complex, as the official account became further muddled with the revelation that the assailant was likely a local, not Caucasian.
Metro Manila Police chief Oscar Albayalde, in a news conference with Resorts World executives on Saturday, said the suspect, who set himself on fire and shot himself in the mouth inside a fifth-floor Maxims Hotel room, had undergone autopsy.
His identity remains unknown however as police were unable to lift fingerprints, but Albayalde said investigators would examine DNA evidence.
“That would be part of our investigation. We’ll get blood samples from the stairwell where he stayed. The dentures will undergo processing,” he said.
The police official also said the tall, hooded suspect rode a Toyota Avanza taxicab to Resorts World Manila in Pasay City just across the airport, from the former San Lazaro hippodrome in Manila. Investigators were getting the taxi driver’s testimony, he said.
Authorities on Friday claimed the suspect likely parked a car and used a parking elevator entrance.
But police and casino officials on Saturday were one in saying there was a lone attacker, who went to the casino in battle gear with an M4 rifle, two bottles of fuel and a backpack.
“Upon verification, the taxi driver said that the gunman was alone when he picked him up in San Lazaro. He is only one,” Albayalde said.
Also, they insisted the motive was robbery, not terrorism, as the gunman did not fire at any person.
Armeen Gomez, vice president for security of Resorts World Manila, showed closed-circuit television footage beginning with the assailant arriving on a taxicab and riding an elevator to the second floor around midnight on Friday.
The gunman put on a mask as he got out of the lift and bypassed the metal detector, prompting the lady guard to run after him. People, including the lady guard, began to panic upon seeing the hooded attacker and scrambled toward the exits.
“When the suspect fired shots inside the casino, people began to scream ‘ISIS! ISIS!’ (Islamic State). The assumption in the scene is that there was more than one suspect,” said Albayalde.
The video also showed the attacker setting two casino tables and slot machines and carpets on fire. He then forced open a stock room and stole gaming chips, which police said were worth P113 million.
Internal security were shown chasing after the suspect, with one security officer managing to shoot the gunman, slowing him down as he climbed a stairwell.
The footage ended with the gunman forcing open Room 510 of Maxims Hotel and setting linen on fire to stall security officers and policemen.
Gomez said he could not show the inside of Room 510 as there were no cameras inside hotel rooms.
Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa had said the gunman set fire on himself using a fuel-soaked blanket, and then shot himself.
Gomez and Albayalde revealed that the gunman spoke in Filipino, contradicting earlier accounts that he spoke in English.
“The suspect can speak in Filipino. He is actually speaking in straight Filipino. He has light skin, a mestizo, and a big guy,” said Gomez, citing the testimony of his men.
Thirty-seven people died in the fires and dozens more were injured in a stampede to escape. Resorts World evacuated 12,000 people.
IS claimed responsibility, with a report on its self-styled Amaq news agency saying its “fighters” carried out the attack.
But authorities continued to insist Saturday that the assailant appeared to be a mentally disturbed man who had been attempting a bizarre solo robbery, and he was not a terrorist.
Malacañang on Saturday allayed fears the Duterte administration would use the incident in Resorts World Manila as a basis to place the entire country under military rule, after martial law was declared over Mindanao last May 23 to crush a terror attack in Marawi City.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said the incident does not fall under the requirements of the Constitution for the declaration of martial law.
“The incident in the Resorts World Manila is thus an isolated case which does not constitute rebellion or invasion, which are the grounds for the declaration of martial law as prescribed by the Constitution and which the President is sworn to abide by and protect when he took his oath of office,” Abella said.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE