(Updates with PNP estimate of death toll, motive of the gunman)
The lone gunman who set the Resorts World Manila hotel casino in Pasay City on fire died early Friday, while 36 other bodies have been recovered from the site, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said.
“Patay na. (He’s dead.) He was found by our men lying in bed in a room full of smoke,” PNP chief Ronald de la Rosa told reporters in an interview aired on GMA7 News public television.
The gunman, who has so far remained unidentified, poured gas on himself before setting himself alight while lying in bed in an apparent suicide, police said.
National Capital Region Police chief Oscar Albayalde told reporters outside the casino, as broadcast, that the 36 other people must have died of suffocation given that their bodies were found in smoke-filled rooms.
Resorts World Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly confirmed the victims died of suffocation and that their bodies were recovered from the gaming floors of the establishment.
The ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Resorts World early Friday, according to initial media reports, but de la Rosa said available evidence shows the incident indicated no act of terrorism.
“Any group can make such claims for propaganda purposes or whatever they want to say, but we will base it on facts,” de la Rosa said at the time the police was still checking the available evidence.
Later de la Rosa and Albayalde separately told reporters outside the casino-hotel the incident was simply a robbery attempt gone wrong. De la Rosa explained the gunman did not fire shots at anyone but at CCTVs installed in the gaming area and at the door of the stock room where he found and picked up gambling chips, later recovered and estimated by police to be worth about P113 million.
Albayalde said from the CCTV images, the gunman operated alone throughout the whole incident.
“If he were a terrorist, he would have strapped a bomb or TNT onto himself and detonated himself to inflict more damage,” Albayalde said.
Fifty-four people suffered mostly minor injuries from the incident and about 18 of them were taken to hospital.
The fire has been contained, but the hotel remains locked down, de la Rosa said.
From de la Rosa’s initial account, in addition to that of PNP officials and eyewitnesses interviewed on GMA News TV: CCTV from the hotel shows a lone, tall, hooded man carrying a long firearm entering the second floor — the gaming area.
After grabbing a bag full of gaming chips from a smaller room, the man poured a bottle of gasoline on some gaming tables and set them on fire by firing shots from what police later described as a baby armalite. He then disappeared into the smoke. He was later found dead in bed in one of the rooms on the fifth floor. NERILYN TENORIO