• DUTERTE SAYS ISLAMIC STATE NOT BEHIND CASINO TRAGEDY

    Terror attack? Speaker and Palace, AFP disagree

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    HOUSE Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez insisted on Saturday the attack at the high-end Resorts World Manila casino and entertainment complex was a terrorist attack, not a case of robbery as earlier claimed by the police, military and Malacañang.

    Alvarez issued the statement as the Islamic State (IS), through its Amaq news agency, claimed responsibility for the Resorts World attack for the second time and even identified the assailant.

    “With God’s help, our brother Abul Khayr al-Arkhabili managed to hide with his machine gun among a group of Christians, who fight Islam, inside a Resorts World resort in Manila, Philippines, where he opened fire on them, killing and injuring about 100 of them, until he, eventually, died as a martyr,” the international terrorist group said.

    IS first claimed responsibility on Friday night, with a report on Amaq news agency saying its “fighters” carried out the attack.

    But President Rodrigo Duterte said it was not the handiwork of IS, telling reporters in Cagayan de Oro the suspect didn’t kill and merely took gaming chips.

    Malacañang also stood by the police findings that the incident at Resorts World Manila on Friday was an isolated criminal case and not a terrorist attack, even as the identity of the gunman had yet to be established.

    “They (IS) may claim credit but according to our evidence, it is not so,” Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a radio interview, as he urged the police, the media and the public to avoid speculations.

    “It’s not a terrorist…The evidence at this stage points to the actions of an emotionally disturbed person who was apparently engaged in criminal actions,” Abella told government-run dzRB radio.

    But Alvarez said in his statement: “This is a clear example of a ‘lone-wolf’ terrorist attack targeting civilians to inflict maximum loss of life and damage to property, as what has happened in other countries.”

    He expressed his condolences to the families of victims, particularly commiserating with Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales whose wife, Elizabeth, was among the fatalities.

    “Our authorities should get their act together and put in place the highest level of security measures to prevent this from happening again, here or elsewhere in the country,” Alvarez said.

    Police said 38 people died in the incident, 37 of them suffocating from the fire believed to have been started by the suspect. The attacker was believed to have killed himself by setting himself on fire and then shooting himself with a gun.

    ‘Propaganda’
    Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla also said the IS group’s pronouncement “does not corroborate the facts” gathered by the Southern Police District and the National Capital Region Police Office.

    “As it is, the [Resorts World] incident has the signature of a criminal act that needs deeper investigation to ascertain the real motive behind. It does not have the slightest signature of terrorism whatsoever,” Padilla said in a statement.

    Padilla said that the IS was “prone” to claiming responsibility for every major terrorist attack, such as the bombing of US pop singer Ariana Grande’s concert at Manchester Arena in the United Kingdom last May 22.

    “As in previous incidents this group is prone to claim and admit every criminal incident and label it as its own, clearly indicative of its pure penchant for propaganda,” he said.

    ‘Secure govt, business centers’
    Alvarez also urged the police and the military to work closely to safeguard the country’s government and business centers from terrorist attacks.

    “This incident should be a wake-up call for the police and the military to cooperate closely in making the seat of government and our financial and business center safe from any terrorist attack, whether by ‘lone wolves’ or heavily armed terrorist contingents, as what happened in Marawi City,” the House leader said.

    He called for “a clear and better plan” to secure Metro Manila and other urban centers from groups linked to the IS.

    The private sector can “actively help the government fight terrorism in all its forms by providing information to authorities on suspicious or unusual activities in their communities,” he said.

    Alvarez called on business establishments to ensure that closed-circuit television or CCTV cameras and similar security monitoring equipment are in working condition, and that their security personnel are properly trained.

    Deputy Minority Leader Luis Campos Jr. likewise appealed to establishments to review and improve evacuation procedures.

    Campos filed a bill last month seeking to reorient firefighters as certified paramedics who can help respond to medical emergencies such as smoke inhalation injuries.

    The bill follows the “American model” where a 911 distress call, regardless of the nature of the emergency, triggers the arrival of three first responders on the scene – a fire engine, an ambulance and a police car.

    “We should adopt this highly effective American model here, but we can only do this once we have firefighters who are either paramedics or certified first responders, and once our fire engines are fit not only to suppress blazes, but also to deal with other emergencies,” he said.

    DEMPSEY REYES AND REINA C. TOLENTINO

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