MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Police in the Philippines said Saturday that they are questioning a taxi driver who may have details about the suspect in a deadly casino attack in Manila that left at least 38 people dead.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the rampage, but authorities say that it looked like a botched robbery by one person and that it does not appear linked to terrorism.
According to police, the man stormed into the Resorts World Manila complex early Friday and used gasoline to torch gambling tables. The fire caused clouds of smoke that killed 37 people from smoke inhalation, said Metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde.
The gunman fled to an adjoining hotel and killed himself.
“If he was a suicidal terrorist, then he would have gone on a killing spree,” metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde told The Associated Press on Saturday. “And yet he killed no one, even those people running in front of him. He was even saying, ‘Get out, get out!'”
Police described the suspect as an English-speaking, fair-complexioned man in his 40s who was at least 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall. He was armed with an assault rifle but did not shoot anyone during the attack, police said.
Luchie Arguelle, 61, was playing the slots at around 12:10 a.m. Friday when she saw the man enter the room.
“(He was) all dressed in black, burly, everything was covered, you can’t even see his eyes,” said Arguelle, who was about 9 meters (30 feet) from the gunman. She said he was holding two small bottles of liquid and dousing the baccarat table.
“I said, ‘He’s going to burn that table, he’s going to douse it,'” before she grabbed her husband’s hand and started running.
Many in Manila feared after the attack began that it was linked to ongoing battles with Muslim militants aligned with the Islamic State group in the southern city of Marawi.
The fighting has placed much of the country on edge and raised fears that the IS was gaining a foothold in the country.
The Philippines has faced Muslim insurgencies for decades, though much of the violence has occurred in the troubled south.
There’s been concern the militants might attack elsewhere to divert the focus of thousands of troops trying to quell the siege in Marawi.
But police were emphatic that there appeared to be no links to terrorism in Friday’s attack.
Albayalde said police were getting more closed circuit television pictures and questioning the taxi driver who dropped the suspect off at the casino.
“We have the taxi driver who could probably identify him,” Alabayade said.
The attack occurred at a sprawling mall-like complex near the Manila airport that includes hotels, restaurants, stores and a multi-floor gambling area.
Police said that during the attack the man stole more than $2 million worth of casino chips, though he apparently abandoned them in a toilet soon after.
As the gunman left, he exchanged fire with a building guard who managed to shoot him in the leg after being wounded, police and casino officials said.
“Severe blood loss from the gunshot wound significantly slowed the assailant down and resulted in his holing up in a room where he took his own life,” said Stephen Reilly, Resort World’s chief operating officer.
The attack sent hundreds of people fleeing through the complex and into the night. More than 70 people suffered mostly minor injuries in the stampede to escape.