June 1 (UPI) — Law enforcement uncovered 37 bodies inside the Resorts World Manila in the Philippines after an attack by a lone gunman in the casino, police said Friday.
The victims appeared to have died of suffocation from the smoke and were not shot, said Superintendent Tomas Apolinario, Bureau of Fire Protection, Southern Police District in an interview that aired on local media.
“Most of the victims were women who were found dead inside the bathroom,” Apolinario said.
Of the victims, the casino said 13 were casino employees and 24 were guests.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility but police continue to deny it was terror-related. The Islamic State named the attacker as Abou al-Kheir al-Arkhebieli and boasted about “Christians killed or wounded” before he “took his life.”
Police have not identified the suspect..
Around midnight Thursday, the masked and armed gunman forced his way into the second-floor casino and started shooting at gambling machines and setting tables on fire, according to witnesses and police. People were stampeded as they sought shelter.
About 7 a.m., police said they found the gunman dead in one of the hotel guestrooms. He had set himself on fire and was found next to a machine gun and a .380-caliber pistol.
“The lone gunman committed suicide by setting himself on fire in one of the rooms on the fifth floor of the Resort World Hotel,” the National Capitol Region Police Chief Oscar Albayalde told reporters.
In a statement posted to its Facebook page Friday, the resort said it had “extended medical assistance to the 54 individuals who were taken to nearby hospitals.”
Philippine National Police chief General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa downplayed news reports that the Islamic State terror group was behind the attack, saying the early evidence doesn’t yet point in that direction.
“Don’t panic, this is not a cause for alarm,” he said. “We cannot attribute this to terrorism. We are looking into a robbery angle because he did not hurt any people and went straight to the casino chips storage room.
“He parked at the second floor and barged into the casino, shooting large TV screens and poured gasoline on a table, setting it on fire.”
The suspect, described as Caucasian, ransacked a room and stole gaming chips, Dela Rosa said. Chips totaling $2.3 million were found in a backpack recovered by police, he added.
Resorts World Manila said the shooting triggered a lockdown, and that it was working with police in the case. All terminals at nearby Ninoy Aquino International Airport were also locked down because of the attack.
The complex, which opened in 2009, is described on RWM’s website as “the first and largest integrated resort in the Philippines.” It occupies part of a former military camp, and includes four hotels, casino gambling areas, a shopping mall, cinemas, restaurants, clubs and a theater. The hotels have a total of 1,574 rooms.
A police officer at the Pasay City Tactical Operations Center said SWAT teams responded to the shooting, according to The New York Times.
The New York Times cited local media reports that there were explosions around the hotel, which is near Manila’s international airport. Witnesses also said initially that they saw two armed suspects dressed in black.
“I could smell some kind of smoke that came from an explosive device,” said Tikos Low, who said he was in the resort’s casino, to CNN.
Authorities were not able to confirm the origin of the attack, but the Philippine military has been recently fighting groups associated with the Islamic State elsewhere in the island nation.