MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The lone suspect who launched a deadly attack on a casino and shopping complex in the Philippine capital that left dozens dead was a heavily indebted Filipino who was hooked on gambling, police said Sunday.
Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said the man’s immediate family confirmed his identity as Jessie Carlos, a married father of three and former Finance Department employee who owed more than $80,000 dollars.
The revelations confirm that “this is not an act of terrorism,’’ Albayalde said. “This incident is confined to the act of one man alone as we have always said.’’
Albayalde said the man had sold off property to support his gambling habit of at least several years, including a vehicle. His family had grown so concerned they had asked casinos in the capital to ban him since April 3.
Security footage of attack
The news came after authorities released security footage showing Carlos casually exiting a taxi just after midnight and walking calmly into a vast entertainment and gambling complex like any other visitor. Shortly afterward, he dons a black ski mask, slips on an ammunition vest and pulls an M4 carbine assault rifle out of his backpack.
What follows borders on the surreal: a slow-motion arson attack and robbery so methodical and unhurried, the gunman appears to walk much of the way — even as he exchanges fire with a security guard and flees, slightly wounded, up a stairwell.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the early Friday rampage at the Resorts World Manila complex. At least 37 patrons and employees died, mostly from smoke inhalation as they tried to hide on the second floor, including one the casino’s VIP rooms, police said. The gunman fled to an adjoining hotel and reportedly killed himself.
Video backs robbery theory
The video footage shown to reporters Saturday, though, bolsters the government’s case that this was a botched robbery by a lone attacker with no known link to terrorism. Police said that’s why they wanted to release it.
In his first remarks on the assault, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that the attacker was simply “crazy.” He questioned what the gunman was going to do with the $2 million horde of poker chips he had tried to haul away. He also discounted any links to the Islamic State group, saying this “is not the work of ISIS. The work of the ISIS is more cruel and brutal.”
Despite some initially contradictory accounts of the chaos, what is known so far appears to back up that claim.
Although the attacker was well armed, Albayalde said he was carrying 90 bullets in three rifle clips, there are no confirmed reports that he shot any civilians. Instead, he fired into the ceilings, scattering panicked crowds, some of whom jumped out windows to escape what they believed to be a terror attack.
Albayalde said the security footage contained a clear motive: the gunman headed straight for a storage room that contained poker chips. He is seen shooting through several thick white doors, breaking down one of them at 12:18 a.m. Friday, only 11 minutes after his arrival. Abayalde suggested he set fires as a diversionary tactic and his next move was to try to get out.
More than 12,000 people were in the complex at the time; most were successfully evacuated.
The taxi driver who dropped him off told police said his passenger spoke fluent Tagalog and appeared normal during the ride. The gunman asked him just one thing: to change the radio channel to the news instead of music, Albayalde said.
“All indications ... point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual,” said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella.
National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa also said the attack did not appear to be terrorism, but he cautioned that authorities still know very little about the attacker.
The Philippines has faced Muslim insurgencies for decades, though much of the violence has occurred in the troubled south. Many in Manila feared Friday’s attack was linked to ongoing battles with militants aligned with the Islamic State group in the southern Philippine city of Marawi. The fighting has placed the country on edge and prompted Duterte to declare martial law across the south.
IS carried two statements claiming responsibility for the attack, but they contained discrepancies. One mentioned fighters, the other just one fighter, a person who goes by the nom de guerre “Brother Abu al-Kheir al-Arkhabili.’’ One of the statements also said the attacker “died as a martyr,” which would not make sense if he shot himself in an evacuated hotel room at the end of the night, as the police claim. Suicide is forbidden in Islam.
Armeen Gomez, chief security officer at Resorts World, said witnesses at the scene had testified to seeing multiple assailants. But he believes their accounts were likely confused by the chaos and panic. Beyond the unidentified gunman, the only other people armed in the images released Saturday were the security forces clearing the area.