Thirty-five people were killed in the Resorts World Manila casino in the Philippines in an incident that is being investigated as a robbery, according to national police chief Ronald Dela Rosa.
Earlier, CNN Philippines reported that police and SWAT teams were deployed to the hotel around 1:30 a.m. on Friday, June 2 after gunshots and explosions were reported in the hotel complex.
In a statement, Resorts World Manila confirmed 35 people were killed. The hotel said 13 of the victims were employees and 22 were guests.
— Resorts World Manila (@rwmanila) June 2, 2017
Police had initially reported no one died in the incident, but appeared to find the victims while sweeping the hotel. Resorts World Manila Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly said they suffocated when the assailant set fire to the hotel.
Reilly: There is proper ventilation in the property. They were overwhelmed with smoke when they sought shelter. #ResortsWorldAttack
— ABS-CBN News (@ABSCBNNews) June 2, 2017
Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said the gunman killed himself: “Our assessment is he burned himself. He committed suicide.”
Dela Rosa said it was too early to determine if Islamic State was involved, despite reported claims of responsibility from the group.
He said the suspect took a pack of green casino chips worth 113 million Philippine pesos ($2.3 million), set casino tables and rugs on fire and fired his weapon in the air, but did not shoot at people inside the casino.
“It is too early to tell if this is a terror attack. Based on the facts we gathered… there was an absence of violence dahil the lone gunman did not shoot an innocent person.”
Philippines National Police chief Ronald Dela Rosa
This is a sad day for Resorts World Manila… pic.twitter.com/qjnOIMVSZR
— Resorts World Manila (@rwmanila) June 2, 2017
The Philippine Red Cross said it transported three people to hospitals, and Dela Rosa said more than 50 were sent to hospitals with various injuries, including broken bones.
Islamic State claims
There have been a number of conflicting claims made on social media that Islamic State, and IS-linked group, or an IS “supporter” was responsible for the incident in Resorts World Manila.
Shortly after the incident was reported, Polish conflict tracker Paweł Wójcik posted a claim to Twitter, which he subsequently deleted, believing it to be in error.
The claim was from an IS Lanao account which Wójcik knows. The account had previously shared accurate information about other IS-claimed incidents in the Philippines, and said soldiers (plural) of the Caliphate carried out the attack.
New York Times reporter Rukmini Calimachi also posted the claim noting that “this is not an official claim. If ISIS claims it we need to see post on an official ISIS venue like Amaq.”
Terrorism and jihadism researcher Amarnath Amarasingam said “No official ISIS claim yet. Just this bizarrely worded claim on a Philippine pro-ISIS account, made by supposed fighter.”
2. No official ISIS claim yet. Just this bizarrely worded claim on a Philippine pro-ISIS account, made by supposed fighter. #Manila pic.twitter.com/hMaqxmGBmT
— Amarnath Amarasingam (@AmarAmarasingam) June 1, 2017
Calimachi later explained that the user who claimed the attack was the same one who posted video of a kidnapped priest, an event verified by the authorities.
Around the same time, Philippine police said there was no indication that this was a terrorist attack, that only one suspect was involved and that they were investigating the incident as a robbery.
Wójcik then posted that he felt the need to apologise for publishing the claim, which at the time seemed incorrect, but noted “my source had been providing me info long before Marawi, about ASG, Maute and others.”
Around 11 hours later, Calimachi said: “The same ISIS member continues to say it was them,” sharing an image of an online posting claiming the attacker was Abu Khair al-Luzonee, a “soldier of the Caliphate”, and that he had killed three and injured 40 in an attack on the casino.
11. What happened in Manila remains murky with 30+ dead in what police say was a robbery. The same ISIS member continues to say it was them pic.twitter.com/tJGiHOgYcS
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) June 2, 2017
Wójcik posted the same claim.
The kunya – nom de guerre or a nickname – al-Luzonee refers to the island on which Manila is located, implying that this is where the attacker was from, or – less likely – where he was living.
Seven hours later, the IS-linked Amaq news agency posted a claim that “Islamic State fighters carried out the attack Manila in Philippines yesterday.”
Insurgency researcher Charlie Winter, translated the claim as saying IS “supporters” were responsible for the attack.
Calimachi shared a translation of the Amaq claim made by SITE Intel Group. It said “Islamic State fighters carried out the Manila attack”. Calimachi noted the plural.
Two hours later, Bild’s Björn Stritzel posted a claim from Islamic State’s central media agency Nashir, saying IS “claims to have killed/injured 100 “christian warriors” in Manila, saying that it was an Inghimasi attack.”
Cameron Colquhoun, Managing Director of Neon Century, a corporate intelligence consultancy based in London, described Inghimasi as “special-forces style suicide fighter who carries both small arms and explosives. He initially uses his light weapons while wearing an explosive belt that is activated only when he runs out of ammunition or when he feels threatened or trapped. The Inghimasiun essentially act as ‘shock troops’, aiming to soften the defences of their military or civilian targets.”
Amarasingam translated the name of the fighter from the Nashir claim as Abu Khair Al-Arkhabiliy, explaining that the kunya “might refer to Majmu’ah al Arkhabiliy, an Indonesian-Malaysian fighting force under “command” of ISIS.”
Others concurred, and Al Qaeda expert Thomas Jocelyn said that this group is also known as Katibah Nusantara, which is linked to attacks in Jakarta. “Leading figures, including Abu Muhammad al-Indonesi, have been tied to Philippines,” Jocelyn said.
Calimachi shared a translation of the claim from SITE.
Winter and others pointed out that incorrect Amaq claims about recent attacks in Paris, Manchester, and Manila “have really taken their toll on Amaq’s credibility. This is important.”