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Dozens suffocate to death after gunman torches tables in casino

CCTV captures the gunman at the Resorts World Manila complex
CCTV captures the gunman at the Resorts World Manila complex

At least 36 people have suffocated in choking fumes after a gunman who stormed a casino-hotel complex in the Philippines set fire to gaming tables.

The gunman stuffed a backpack with casino chips before he fled, but was found dead in an adjacent hotel early on Friday, having apparently killed himself.

The bodies were found in the smoky gambling room of the Resorts World Manila by firefighters. They died from suffocation and smoke inhalation.

Metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said none of the bodies had gunshot wounds.

The attack, which sent hundreds fleeing into the streets during the night, prompting a claim of responsibility from the Islamic State group, but police said there was no evidence to support terrorism and believed robbery was the motive.

The violence unfolded as government forces were engaged in a second week of fighting against Muslim militants aligned with IS 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. "But he did not hurt anyone."

"It's either he lost in the casino and wanted to recoup his losses or he went totally nuts," Mr Albayalde said, adding he saw no connection to the fighting in Marawi.

Mr dela Rosa said security footage showed the gunman ignoring a guard who tried to question him at the entrance to the complex.

He did not hurt the guard but went straight to the gambling area.

The gunman stole gambling chips, shot up TV screens and set gaming tables on fire by pouring petrol on them, Mr dela Rosa said.

It was not clear how the gunman smuggled petrole and an assault rifle into the crowded casino, but he did not fire at people he encountered.

The man carried a two-litre soft drink bottle and may have had an extra container of petrol as well, Mr Albayalde said.

The room was carpeted, the tables were combustible and all the bodies were found in the smoky gambling room.

Investigators were checking if the water sprinklers in the hotel worked.

The only gunshot wound was to a guard at the complex, who shot himself accidentally 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.

More than 70 people suffered mostly minor injuries in the stampede to escape.

Ronald Romualdo, a maintenance worker at Resorts World, said he and his colleagues heard gunshots and saw people smashing the windows on the second floor and third floor to escape.

"We took out a ladder to save them. We were able to save many of them," he said.

"But one woman I was trying to save fell from the second floor. I could not carry her."

He said the woman was not moving afterwards, but he did not know what happened to her.

About 90 minutes after the attack began, Resorts World Manila said on its Facebook page that it was on lockdown following reports of gunfire and was working to ensure the safety of guests and workers.

Mr dela Rosa said the gunman apparently barged into a room on the 5th floor of the Maxims hotel connected to the mall and casino, where he set himself on fire.

A bag of gambling chips worth 113 million pesos (£176,500) was found in a toilet.

The suspect was English-speaking but had no identification cards.

Mr dela Rosa described him as "white, with a moustache" and about 6ft.

He said the man's car in the complex car park was being examined.

As news of the attack had spread, US 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.

The SITE Intelligence Group, a US terrorism monitor, said an IS-linked Filipino operative who provides daily updates on the clashes in Marawi claimed "lone wolf soldiers" of IS 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."

The unrest in Marawi had sparked fears that militants might attack elsewhere to divert the focus of thousands of troops trying to quell the siege.

But Mr dela Rosa said: "We cannot attribute this to terrorism without concrete evidence."