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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Resorts World Manila attacker was a Filipino casino gambler, not ISIS: Police

COTABATO CITY – Philippine police on Sunday denied ISIS claims on deadly attack Resorts World Hotel in Manila and said it already identified the lone gunman as a Filipino, who barged in a casino and torched gambling tables and eventually killed himself following a brief clash with security guards.

Oscar Albayalde, chief of police of the National Capital Region, said identified the attacker as Jessie Carlos, who was a former employee of the Department of Finance. The 42-year old Carlos was fired from his job for misdeclaring his assets. 

Albayalde, quoting an initial police report, said the man was a casino gambler and heavily indebted. “He has a bank account with an outstanding debt of four million pesos, and several other non-bank related debt. He sold his Ford Ranger (truck) due to financial constraints,” he said, adding, the attack was not an act of terrorism.

No other details were made available by the police on Carlos’ background or whether he had any affiliation with a rebel or jihadist group, or what pushed him to commit such a daring attack on the casino. The attacker was previously thought to be a foreigner after witnesses claimed Carlos spoke in English, but a cabbie, who dropped Carlos at the hotel, told police that the man spoke fluently in Tagalog. 

The police announcement came a day after the Islamic State has for the second time claimed responsibility for the casino attack and even identified the lone gunman by his nom de guerre as Abul Al-Kahir al-Arkhabili.

It said the daring attack was carried out by one of its jihadists who later shot himself in the head in one of the hotel rooms after setting fire gambling tables and carpets that suffocated the victims.

The Islamic State, in a statement released through its Amaq News Agency, said: “With God’s help, our brother Abul Khayr al-Arkhabili managed to hide with his machine gun among a group of Christians, who fight Islam, inside a Resorts World resort in Manila, Philippines, where he opened fire on them, killing and injuring about 100 of them, until he, eventually, died as a martyr.”

The Friday’s attack sent heavily-armed policemen to the hotel, but failed to capture the gunman, who moved from one floor to another while setting everything on fire and virtually trapping many people. Among those who died were 22 guests and the rest hotel employees.

Stephen Reilly, the Chief Operating Officer of Resorts World Manila, identified the guests as Caccam Catherine Cervantes, P Ling Hung Lee, Pacita Guillermo Comquilla, Pomenciano Vargas Jr., Susan Abulencia, Lai Wei Chung, Jaime Gaboy Jr., Ariel Abrogar, Lai Yu Cheeh, Cliff Reyniera, Rolando Pena Sison, Eluterio Reyes, Antonina Yuzon Allanigue, Shiela Malicse, Carmelita Taylo Dela Cruz, Mielle Oliveros, Pamela Silvestre, Elizabeth Gonzales, and two others remain unknown.

The employees were also named as Hazel Yangco, Jellah Ramos, Melvin Herrera, Arvi Gavino, BJ Pagsibigan, Rojie Uy, Jessica Alindogan, Merylle Gwen Ala, Lea Grace Mozo, Loudette Santos, Kay Nuguerra and two more who are still unidentified. Reilly said there was only one gunman and that hotel security shot and wounded the attacker.

Both the Philippines police chief Ronald dela Rosa and Albayalde previously said the ISIS claim of responsibility for the attack was a mere propaganda. Television news pictures showed the attacker brandishing an automatic rifle and wearing a black bonnet and a jacket and carrying a back pack. It was unknown how the man managed to sneak the weapon into the casino.

The attack coincided with heavy fighting between military and ISIS forces in Marawi City in southern Philippines. It was unknown whether the hotel attack was connected to the siege in Marawi.

The SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. terrorism monitor, said an Islamic State-linked Filipino operative who provides daily updates on the ongoing clashes in Marawi, claimed that “lone wolf soldiers” of the Islamic State group were responsible for the attack at Resorts World Manila.

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.”

President Rodrigo Duterte sent thousands of soldiers, backed by military planes and tanks, to Marawi City to end the siege by about 500 local ISIS fighters.

The military said troops had killed at least 120 militants, however, only recovered 42 bodies of jihadists, including 98 assorted weapons, from an automatic rifle to machine guns, left behind by the ISIS fighters, mostly members of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups. But 38 soldiers also perished in the violence with dozens more injured in fierce urban and close-quarter clashes.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao region to crush the rebellion in Marawi which started on May 23, but fighting between troops and jihadists were also reported in the provinces of Basilan and Sulu and communist rebels take advantage of the violence by launching attacks on military and government targets elsewhere in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

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