An armed robber who started shooting inside a Manila resort and then set the casino ablaze, leaving behind 35 dead bodies, was gambling addict with a large amount of debt, police in the Philippines said Sunday.
The suspect was identified as Jesse Carlos, a man who had accumulated more than $80,000 in debt from gambling, said Police Chief Oscar Albayalde, of the Philippines National Police, according to the Associated Press.
Police said officials have spoken to Carlos's relatives, who confirmed suspicions that the deadly and violent robbery was not an act of terrorism.
Officials said Carlos was heavily armed when he entered the resort but, instead of shooting patrons and security, he focused on stuffing his backpack with gambling chips from the casino.
A fire then set by the suspect left dozens dead in the violent incident.
Thirty-five bodies were found inside a popular resort in Manila, the resort's operator said Friday, after a gunman opened fire and set gambling tables ablaze in a violent robbery.
The suspect, who was seen on surveillance video dressed in all black, apparently set himself on fire, then shot himself to death before he could be confronted by Philippine police officers after an hours-long lockdown at the resort, the resort confirmed in a statement.
Witnesses on social media reported gunshots fired at Resorts World Manila, a complex that houses a mall, casino, and hotel around midnight Thursday local time.
The report of violence in a popular Manila casino sparked fears of a terrorist attack, but police said surveillance footage and the suspect's focus on money, instead of injuring people, suggested robbery was the motive.
"It is not terrorism at this point," Southern Police District Director Tomas Apolinario told CNN Philippines.
Southern Police District officials initially told the network that 36 bodies were found inside the resort, plus that of the gunman.
However, this total was later revised down to 35, with Resorts World Manila issuing a statement on its Facebook page saying 22 guests and 13 staff had died. Of those, the identities of two employees and four guests were still being validated.
"We are doing our very best to inform the families of the victims. We are extending all forms of assistance to the affected next of kin. We are one in mourning with the families of those affected by this tragedy," the statement read.
Despite reports that the gunman fired a rifle inside the casino, Metropolitan Manila Police Chief Oscar Albayalde told the AP that the bodies were discovered by firefighters in smoke-filled rooms. All had apparently died from suffocation and smoke inhalation. None had gunshot wounds.
"Most of the victims were women who were found dead inside the bathroom," Southern Police District Director Superintendent Tomas Apolinario said Friday, according to CNN.
Resorts World official Stephen James Riley told reporters that security officials in the hotel believed the incident had been carried out by a single perpetrator.
Dozens of people were also injured as guests of the hotel panicked and tried to rush out of the hotel, Riley told reporters.
Resorts World Manila said in an earlier statement that 54 people had been taken to nearby hospitals with various injuries.
The suspect, who is believed to have acted alone, entered the resort from the second-floor of the building and began firing shots and setting gambling tables on fire.
"This cowardly act of a deranged mind will not defeat the spirit on which Resorts World Manila was built," the statement read. "With your prayers, we will overcome this tragedy."
On Friday, authorities released images of the suspect from surveillance footage from the resort, showing a man who appeared to be wearing all black and carrying an assault rifle.
A picture of the suspect's rifle, obtained by police at the scene, appeared to show the weapon damaged from fire.
National Capital Region Police Chief Oscar Albayalde told CNN the suspect had committed suicide by setting himself on fire on the fifth floor of the building.
The suspect, Jesse Carlos, had apparently gone straight to filling a backpack with gambling chips from the casino, suggesting to authorities the incident was a robbery and not terror related.
"He ransacked the storage room of the chips of the casino," taking with him about 113 million pesos, Dela Rosa told reporters.
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said President Trump had been briefed on the incident.
And later, at a White House news conference, as the situation continued to be fluid, Trump called the situation a terrorist attack.
"I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila," the president said. "We're closely monitoring the situation and I will continue to give updates if anything happens during this period of time but it is really very sad as to what is going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected."
Hours after the incident unfolded, however, Philippine authorities confirmed that robbery was the likely motive in the attack, and that terrorism was not suspected.
The US State Department also tweeted a warning about the attack and urged Americans to avoid the area.
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