By Martin Sadongdong and Reuters
President Duterte on Saturday said Islamic State militants were not behind the deadly attack at an upscale casino-hotel in Pasay City on Friday.
“That is not the work of ISIS,” Duterte told reporters, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Islamic State had earlier claimed responsibility for the attack that killed at least 38 people, including the gunman.
Police have yet to determine the identity of the gunman, almost two days after he stormed the Resorts World Manila (RWM) complex on Friday and started a fire that suffocated 37 people.
What has been established is that the foreign-looking suspect rode a taxicab to get to RWM. He was the 38th fatality who was found dead later at Room 510 of RWM’s Maxims Hotel where he allegedly burned himself.
Pasay police chief Senior Superintendent Dionisio Bartolome on Saturday said the cab driver, whose name was being withheld, is now considered a “person of interest” and held for questioning. The cabbie picked up the suspect at 11 p.m. Thursday in Sta. Cruz, Manila, and drove him to the upscale casino-hotel about an hour later.
Bartolome said the driver positively identified the suspect who was described as between 40 and 45 years old, about 6 feet tall, medium built, had fair complexion and wore a black long sleeve shirt with black vest, black bonnet, and pants.
National Capital Regional Police Officer (NCRPO) chief Director Oscar Albayalde, quoting the taxi driver, said the gunman spoke in straight Filipino.
In a five-page report submitted to Southern Police District (SPD) director Chief Supt. Tomas Apolinario, Bartolome said the gunman was armed with an M16 rifle (Bushmaster) and a caliber .380 pistol.
As a result of the new development, police cleared the person of interest they had earlier invited for questioning.
Before the new development, police said the gunman arrived at the casino-hotel aboard a vehicle which was traced to the first person of interest.
Six foreigners among fatalities
Meanwhile, police said among 38 dead were six foreigners, including Taiwanese Lai Wei Chuing, 26; Pi Ling, 45; Hong Tung Tsung and Hung Lee.
The others were Kim Sung Hyun, a 46-year-old Korean and a certain Lai Yu Chieh whose nationality has yet to be established.
Another foreign-looking body was recovered. The man was described as between 25 and 30 years old, slim built, about 5’10 tall, and clad in a blue hoodie jacket, blue polo shirt, black pants and rubber shoes.
The police report said five of the 76 who were wounded suffered gunshot wounds.
“Hindi pa malinaw kung pinaputukan o natamaan ng stray bullets kasi may instance rin na naglagay ng bala ‘yung gunman sa isang casino table at saka niya sinilaban,” said Senior Police Officer 1 Rodolfo Suquina, the lead investigator on the case.
The wounded were taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, Pasay City General Hospital, Villamor Airbase Hospital, Las Piñas District Hospital, Capitol Medical Center, Manila Adventist Hospital, and San Juan De Dios Hospital.
To facilitate the investigation, police have requested copies of the CCTV footages from the RWM and the floor plan of the establishment.
The gunman’s firearms were also sent to Camp Crame for ballistic examination.
‘Not a terror act’
On Saturday, Malacañang allayed fears the rampage at the upscale casino-hotel on Friday was an act of terrorism after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility.
“They can always claim what they want to claim in their website, which they are in full control of,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said during the fourth Mindanao Hour press briefing over Radyo ng Bayan Saturday morning.
“However, there is no truth that the incident was a terror act. According to our evidence, the incident is a local peace and order concern,” Abella continued.
The authorities’ claim that the incident was not terrorism-related appears to have been strengthened by footages of the hotel CCTV, which were presented to media Saturday afternoon.
The gunman, based on the CCTV footages shown by RWM security team chief Armeen Gomez, fired shots in the air upon entering the casino area, using an M4 assault rifle, not an M16 rifle as reported by Apolinario.
At that point, Gomez said they had started the evacuation protocol to ensure the safety of the 12,154 guests checked in. They also started contacting police and firemen at that time.
“At 12:12 (a.m.), the gunman entered Prosperity Court while firing his gun, he then proceeded to torch three gaming tables at the second floor of the main gaming area, entered a gaming salon and torched another gaming table,” Gomez continued.
He proceeded to Bar 180, fired several more shots, then lit some slot machines, Gomez added.
Six minutes later, the gunman accessed the cashier area at the back portion of the second floor, where he forcibly entered the casino chips bank room.
“Finding no cash, he placed in the bag P113.1 million worth of high-denomination chips,” Gomez said.
At 12:20 a.m., the main force of the Philippine National Police (PNP) arrived and took over from the RWM security team.
At 1:10 a.m., police found the gunman at the basement area where the first exchange of fire happened, Gomez said. The gunman was hit and went up to the stairwell “pausing at various times to fire shots at PNP and RWM security men pursuing him.”
The gunman dropped and abandoned the bag of chips and at 1:43 a.m., apparently due to blood loss. He then made his way to the fifth floor, set a blanket on fire that spread to carpet. He entered Room 510, set it on fire and then shot himself, Gomez said.
Albayalde said the footage of the gunman stuffing chips with high value indicated he was after the money.
“Until we get any indication that it is a terror attack and he is a member of terror group, then we cannot say it is (terror attack). We cannot speculate here. We showed it to the public so we can see what he did,” Albayalde said.
“If he was a terrorist he could’ve shot a civilian. With all the ammo, he could have killed hundreds of people there,” he added.
The gunman had three magazines of bullets with him, a total of 90 rounds, Albayalde added.
‘Lone wolf terrorist attack’
But Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Saturday contradicted the initial findings of authorities dismissing terrorism as the motive.
In a statement expressing condolences to the families of victims, Alvarez expressed the belief that the violence was a “clear example of a lone wolf terrorist attack” that was similar to incidents in other countries that claimed many lives.
“At this point, I disagree with the conclusion reached by law enforcement authorities that the Resorts World incident was not a terrorist act but rather a criminal case of armed robbery and arson,” Alvarez stated, as he noted that the incident followed numerous acts of violence in various parts of the world that were carried out by single assailants.
However, his House colleagues are not buying into Alvarez’s opinion which has yet to be backed by probe results.
“It’s still early to claim that. Allegedly, ang gunman natalo sa sugal at nagwala,” said Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano.
Rep. Ruffy Biazon (LP, Muntinlupa City) and Gus Tambunting (PDP-Laban, Parañaque City), both senior members of the House Committee on Public Order and Safety, said they defer to the findings of a comprehensive police and arson probe in the meantime. (With reports from Ben Rosario and Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos)
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