At least 36 people died in the Philippines when an upscale hotel and casino complex was attacked in the early hours of Friday morning, local time. AP reports that a Philippine operative of ISIS claimed responsibility, but police say the attack was not linked to terrorism.
Here’s what we know so far.
What happened and where?
Gunshots and explosions were heard shortly after midnight Friday local time at Resorts World Manila, opposite the city’s airport. Resorts World is a complex of hotels, casinos, shops and restaurants in Newport City, one of the most affluent districts of the Philippine capital.
Police and troops were mobilized to the scene following witness reports of a gunman breaking in, as smoke started coming out of an upper floor gaming room.
National police chief Gen. Ronald Dela Rosa told media that the lone attacker set gambling tables doused with gasoline alight, causing the choking black smoke that led to the fatalities.
What are the casualties?
AP reports that at least 36 people died at the scene from suffocation, while some 70 others were hurt in the rush to escape. Resorts World Manila confirmed in a statement that at least 54 were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment.
According to Resorts World, the perpetrator took “his own life by setting himself on fire followed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
Who was the attacker, and what was the motive?
So far, authorities say that one gunman, described as Caucasian and foreign, was behind the attack. While U.S. President Donald Trump said publicly that the violence had “terror” links, Dela Rosa said there was no solid evidence linking the case to terrorism.
The gunman took large quantities of gaming chips during the attack, leading some to speculate if it was a bungled robbery. He also shot up gaming machines and ATMs, according to CNN, but did not appear to take aim at patrons.
Is Manila safe?
The attack comes at a highly sensitive time, with the country on alert as government troops attempts to retake the southern city of Marawi from ISIS-linked militants. There have been fears that the terror group would stage diversionary attacks elsewhere in the Philippines, but even if those fears prove unfounded, the apparent infiltration of ISIS into the country’s south has experts worried.
“Regardless of the affiliation and identity of the assailants, whether tied to ISIS or just a criminal group, the attack took place in one of the poshest and safest areas in the country,” writes Richard Heydarian, assistant professor of political science at Manila’s De La Salle University, in an email to TIME.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s efforts to reassure outsiders of the safety of the Philippines would be “an uphill battle,” he said, adding that the attack may have exposed intelligence and security failures.
A number of embassies in the Philippines have issued advisory messages for their nationals, reports the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “The deterioration in security in Mindanao has resulted in a more volatile security environment in the Philippines,” the Australian foreign ministry said.
This is a developing story.