A gunman who stormed and torched a Manila casino, killing 36 people, was a “lone wolf” terrorist, a top Philippines lawmaker said on Saturday, contradicting the police’s assertion that the man had merely wanted to steal gambling chips.
The gunman, whose identity was still unknown, killed himself in a hotel room after being shot by security officers at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex, police said.
A second “person of interest” who was in the casino at the time is cooperating with the investigation, police said.
Pantaleon Alvarez, speaker of the lower house of Congress and a close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, said he was not convinced the incident was a criminal case of armed robbery and arson.
“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,” Alvarez said in a statement.
Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, but that was rejected by Philippines officials, who said it appeared to have been a botched robbery.
Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said on Friday there was no proof linking it to a protracted urban battle between government troops and Islamist militants in the country’s south, while his security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon, said all the evidence pointed to an attempt to steal casino chips.
“We must draw up a clear and better plan to secure Metro Manila and other urban centers from IS-linked groups that we already know will attempt to kill and maim in pursuit of their jihadist ideology,” Alvarez said.
The Philippines has been on heightened alert amid a crisis in the city of Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao, where troops have been battling Islamist rebels since May 23 and martial law is in place.
WAKE UP CALL
The attack at the casino hotel complex, which is close to an airport terminal and air force base, lasted more than six hours.
Security experts and patrons at the casino on Friday expressed alarm at the apparent ease with which a lone gunman was able to enter the building, open fire and start a blaze whose smoke killed more than 30 people.
Firefighters discovered the bodies in the main gaming area, hours after the country’s police chief had said the situation was under control.
Police have also corrected earlier statements about the attacker.
They originally said he arrived at the hotel in a car, but changed that to a cab, and they had described him as Caucasian and English-speaking but the cab driver told them he spoke in the local language.
“Our authorities should get their act together and put in place the highest level of security measures to prevent this to happen again, here or elsewhere in the country,” Alvarez said.
“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.”
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Kim Coghill)