NEWS

Resorts World Manila: Explosions, Gunfire Heard At Hotel Complex In Philippines

06/01/2017 03:07 EDT | Updated 06/01/2017 08:49 EDT

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine police say the suspect in the attack on a hotel and casino complex near Manila's airport has been found dead of apparent suicide.

Metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde says the English-speaking suspect was found dead with his rifle on the fifth floor of the Resorts World Manila complex. He says the gunman apparently killed himself.

Police are searching the suspect's car, parked on the second floor. Before the attack, he got out of the car and entered the building with his rifle.

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A photo shows Resorts World Manila in Pasay, south of Manila, on Friday morning. The hotel is on lockdown after gunfire and explosions were heard inside. (Photo: Ezra Acayan/EPA via CP)

Abayalde says the guards at the door ran away after seeing the armed man.

The suspect took 113 million pesos (US$226,000) worth of gambling chips, which were found in a bag he was carrying.

Abayalde says there was no indication of terrorism. He says either the suspect lost in the casino and wanted to get his money back, or went "totally nuts.''

A Filipino operative for the Islamic State group, in a quick communique, immediately took responsibility for the attack. But police cast doubt on any such links.

The violence unfolded as Muslim militants aligned with the Islamic State group fended off government forces for a 10th day in the southern city of Marawi. That unrest had sparked fears that the militants might attack elsewhere to divert the focus of thousands of troops trying to quell the siege.

The gunman stole gambling chips, shot an LED monitor and set gambling tables ablaze by pouring gasoline on them, national police chief in the Philippines Gen. Ronald Dela Rosa said. But he said the assailant did not fire at people he met.

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Philippines' police officers stand outside Resorts World Hotel in Manila following an attack. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty)

It was not clear how the gunman smuggled enough gasoline into the crowded casino to cause explosions and what prompted Dela Rosa to rule out terrorism so quickly.

Philippine police rushed to the Resorts World Manila complex early Friday after gunshots rang out and witnesses reported gunmen barging in at a mall in the commercial centre, where smoke began billowing from an upper floor.

"I heard many, many gunshots." —witness Julio Silva

Witnesses reported seeing injured people, including a SWAT officer who rushed to the scene and was reportedly fired upon. The AP was working to confirm those reports.

About 90 minutes after the attack began, Resorts World Manila said in its Facebook account that it was "currently on lockdown following reports of gunfire from unidentified men,'' adding, "the company is working closely with the Philippine National Police to ensure that all guests and employees are safe.''

"We ask for your prayers during these difficult times,'' the company said.

Philippine police cordoned off the area near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

"I heard many, many gunshots,'' Julio Silva, a casino player who managed to dash out of the mall complex amid the gunfire, told DZMM radio network.

Silva said he saw a SWAT member who was shouting: "I was hit, I was hit.''

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Evacuated employees and guests of hotels stand along a road and watch as smoke billows from a Resorts World building in Pasay City on Friday. (Photo: Erik De Castro/Reuters)

A DZMM radio reporter on the scene said she saw two ambulances ferrying two people away, one with a bandage on the leg and another in wheelchair.

As news of the attack spread, U.S. President Donald Trump offered the thoughts and prayers of the American people to the Philippines.

"It is really very sad as to what's going on throughout the world with terror,'' he said from the White House Rose Garden. He said he is "closely monitoring the situation'' and will continue to provide updates.

The SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. terrorism monitor, said an Islamic State-linked Filipino operative who provides daily updates on the ongoing clashes in Marawi claimed "lone wolf soldiers'' of the Islamic State group were responsible for the attack.

An English message by the operative was distributed across several pro-IS Telegram chat groups, SITE said. According to SITE, he wrote: "The lone wolf soldiers of Khilafah attack the heart of Kufar the city of Manila in Resort World.''

President Rodrigo Duterte sent soldiers to the southern Philippines to end the siege by about 500 militants. Officials say 120 militants and at least 25 soldiers, five policemen and two dozen civilians have been killed in the fighting since early last week.

Duterte declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines, to crush the insurrection and poured in troops backed by airstrikes, artillery fire and armoured vehicles.

The unrest has boosted fears that the Islamic State group's violent ideology is gaining a foothold in the country's restive southern islands, where Muslim separatist rebellions have raged for nearly half a century.

With an additional file from The Associated Press