Confusion surrounds details of Manila casino heist as authorities struggle to identify gunman
Philippine authorities said they still do not know the identity of the gunman who killed 37 people when he torched a casino, as dramatic security footage was released showing him calmly firing his automatic rifle at security guards and trying to steal gambling chips and money.
The masked man stormed into the Resorts World casino and hotel complex in Manila on Friday with an M4 automatic rifle and a bottle of petrol, before setting alight a number of rooms in the popular complex.
Thirty-seven people died in the fires, dozens more were injured in a stampede to escape, and the gunman was found dead about five hours later in a hotel room after committing suicide by setting fire to himself, police said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility, with a report by its Amaq news agency claiming its “fighters” carried out the attack.
But Philippine authorities continued to insist on Saturday that he appeared to be a mentally disturbed man who had been attempting a bizarre solo robbery, and he was not a terrorist.
“[IS] may claim credit but, according to evidence, it is not so,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said. “Evidence at this stage points to the actions of an emotionally disturbed person who was apparently engaged in criminal actions.”
The footage appeared to show the gunman firing into the air most of the time and not at people inside the casino, except for when confronted by security guards when he calmly shot at them, missed, then walked away slowly.
The video also showed him breaking into a secure room where chips and money were being kept, and apparently intent on stealing what he could.
The video was shown at a briefing by Resorts World security, who said the gunman may have set the rooms alight as a diversion so he could escape.
Albayalde added to the bewildering array of contradictory messages from officials by saying police now believe the gunman arrived in a taxi. Albayalde and other police chiefs repeatedly said on Friday that security footage showed the gunman drive to the casino and leave his vehicle in the complex’s car park.
There was no reason given for the discrepancy. Police also gave confusing or contradictory statements on other key details.
National police chief Ronald dela Rosa initially said police shot the gunman dead, but later claimed he wrapped himself in a blanket and set himself on fire.
Albayalde said the assailant was probably a foreigner, describing him as a Caucasian who spoke English. But yesterday he said the taxi driver who dropped him off said he spoke fluent Tagalog.
“He’s crazy, that guy is crazy,” President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday in his first public comments on the attack. He rejected links to IS, saying the group “is more cruel and brutal”.
But in another apparent contradiction, dela Rosa said since police knew very little about the attacker, that stance may change.
“What if we establish the identity and there are leads that will lead toward terrorism? So our findings, our conclusion, will possibly change,” he told local radio station DZMM.
Duterte imposed martial law last week in the southern region of Mindanao to crush what he called a rising threat from IS. He made the move shortly after militants who have declared allegiance to IS went on a rampage through the city of Marawi, about 800km south of Manila.
Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Manila said five Chinese nationals were among the dead. One victim was from the mainland and four were from Taiwan.
Additional reporting by Associated Press