36 die from smoke in Philippine casino after gunman set fire

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A gunman stormed a casino in the Philippine capital and torched gambling tables in the crowded space, creating a choking level of smoke that killed at least 36 people, authorities said. The gunman stuffed a backpack with casino chips before he fled but was found dead in an adjacent hotel early Friday of an apparent suicide.

The bodies were found in the smoky gambling room by firefighters and all died from suffocation and smoke inhalation, Metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said. None of the bodies had gunshot wounds.

The attack sent hundreds of people fleeing into the night outside the Resorts World Manila complex and produced a claim of terrorism that police stressed had no evidence to support it. The violence unfolded as government forces were engaged in a second week of fighting against Islamic State group-aligned militants in the southern city of Marawi.

“He would have shot all the people gambling there” if it had been terrorism, national police chief Ronald dela Rosa said.

Authorities suspect the motive was robbery. “It’s either he lost in the casino and wanted to recoup his losses or he went totally nuts,” Albayalde said.

Dela Rosa said security footage showed the gunman ignoring a guard who tried to question him at the entrance. He did not hurt the guard but went straight to the gambling area, dela Rosa said.

The gunman stole gambling chips, shot TV screens and set gambling tables ablaze by pouring gasoline on them, dela Rosa said. It was not clear how the gunman smuggled gasoline and an assault rifle into the crowded casino, but the assailant did not fire at people he encountered.

The man carried a 2 liter soda bottle and may have an extra container of gasoline as well, Albayalde said. The room was carpeted and the tables were combustible, he said, and all the bodies were found in the smoky gambling room. Investigators were going to check if the water sprinklers in the hotel worked.

More than 70 people suffered mostly minor injuries in the stampede to escape. The only gunshot wound was a guard at the complex, who accidentally shot himself when the suspect entered the room, authorities said. A South Korean died of a possible heart attack suffered during the evacuation, the country’s Foreign Ministry said.

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