2017 Resorts World Manila attack

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2017 Resorts World Manila attack
Resorts World Manila.JPG
Resorts World Manila, November 2012
Location Resorts World Manila complex, Pasay, Philippines
Coordinates 14°31′08″N 121°01′12″E / 14.51881°N 121.01994°E / 14.51881; 121.01994Coordinates: 14°31′08″N 121°01′12″E / 14.51881°N 121.01994°E / 14.51881; 121.01994
Date 2 June 2017
Approx. 12:00 am (PST GMT+8)
Target Resorts World Manila
Attack type
Armed robbery and arson
Weapons Bushmaster M4-type Carbine, Tanfoglio .380 pistol, and gasoline-fueled arson fire
Deaths 38 (including the perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
70[1]
Perpetrator Jessie Javier Carlos[2]
Motive Problem gambling and debt

On 2 June 2017, dozens of people at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines were killed or injured when a gunman caused a stampede and set fire to casino tables and slot machine chairs around midnight.[3][4] The gunman moved to a storage area to steal casino chips from the venue, but later committed suicide following a confrontation with the arriving police.[5] All of the attack's deaths and injuries resulted from the initial stampede and smoke inhalation from the fire.

While initial suspicions strongly pointed towards a terrorist attack, with affiliates of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claiming responsibility, representatives of the Philippine National Police consistently maintained that the motive was likely robbery.[6][7] Emerging evidence eventually confirmed that the attack was financially motivated and committed by Jessie Javier Carlos, a debt-riddled former civil servant.[2]

Attack[edit]

Resorts World Manila immediately following the shooting. The complex was shrouded in smoke from fires started by the suspect. Also picture is Maxims Tower, where the attacker committed suicide.

A few minutes after midnight of 2 June 2017, a gunman carrying bottled gasoline and an M4 Bushmaster rifle[8][9] entered the Resorts World Manila casino's second floor for high rollers. The gunman reportedly wore a mask, and did not utter any words or battle cries before opening fire with his rifle. The gunfire caused mass panic, and in the evacuation some guests were injured by a stampede. People hearing the initial shots immediately fled from the first and second floors of the building, but some retreated deeper into the building for cover.[10] Reports of an active shooter in the restaurant below the second floor casino soon followed the initial gunfire.[11] In the evacuated gambling floor of the casino the gunman doused the felt linings of poker tables and cushioned slot machine chairs with petrol, then ignited them with a hand-held lighter.[4] At 12:18 am, the gunman proceeded to break into a safe room by shooting out the locks of secured doors with his rifle, taking 113 million pesos (US$2.3 million) worth of gambling chips.[8][12]

Despite no one being directly injured by the suspect's gunfire, the burning casino furniture produced toxic smoke that caused at least 36 reported deaths from smoke inhalation as fumes overcame the crowd; among them were Elizabeth Panlilio Gonzales, wife of Pampanga Rep. Aurelio D. Gonzales, Jr., Eleuterio Briones, husband of actress Azenith Briones, and one South Korean man who suffered a fatal heart attack.[12][13][14][15] Southern Police District Director Superintendent Tomas Apolinario stated that all of the bodies were found within the casino area, most of which were women located within the building's bathroom.[16] 54 were initially reported injured, including a security guard who accidentally shot himself in panic;[17][18] the final injury count was eventually raised to 70.[1]

By 1:30 am, a SWAT team had responded in a raid of the mall and casino premises.[19] Following a confrontation with one of the SWAT units at a stairwell, shots were fired, the gunman was suspected to be wounded, and the gunman fled upwards to Maxims Tower, one of the complex's hotels.[1] At 1:46 am, the gunman shot open the door of Room 510 of the hotel, lit a fire at the corridor, and committed suicide by setting himself on fire in Room 510 and shooting himself in the head.[12][8]

The gunman's bag containing the stolen chips was recovered in a toilet.[20] His rifle, with its serial number filed out, was also recovered alongside a .380 Tanfoglio pistol with an intact serial number.[9]

2017 Resorts World Manila attack
2017 Resorts World Manila attack is located in Metro Manila
2017 Resorts World Manila attack
Resorts World Manila attack map.png
Location of Resorts World Manila, where the attack took place

Investigation[edit]

Identification of the perpetrator and motive[edit]

Soon after the incident, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa issued official statements regarding the attack, describing the attack as being perpetrated by a single shooter, refuting prior eyewitnesses' statements that there were two gunmen, and that the motive was to steal chips from the casino area of the resort complex, clearing the casino of all employees and guests with warning shots and setting the casino room ablaze as a distraction or smoke screen.[21] Dela Rosa would also confirm that while no one was injured by gunfire from the suspect, the burning tables and chair stuffing produced poisonous smoke that killed at least 36 people with many others injured by the smoke and stampede. The suspect fled the casino and meandered throughout the complex before eventually isolating himself in a hotel room where, according to Dela Rosa: "He lay down on the bed, covered himself with a thick blanket, apparently poured gasoline on the blanket and burned himself".[22]

The Philippine National Police probed any possible security lapses that may have allowed the gunman to enter the premises.[23] Blood samples left behind by the bleeding suspect were also collected from a stairwell leading to the Room 510 and an autopsy was conducted to identify the suspect's body, which had been burned beyond recognition.[12] During preliminary investigations, Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde stated the police suspected the lone assailant might have been a male white person of a tall height and a fluent English-speaker,[1] and had likely set the casino tables and furniture on fire as a diversion while he committed the robbery.[13]

On 3 June, the authorities released CCTV footage of the incident that extensively depicted the progression of events. The gunman had arrived at the casino in a taxi, which driver was later interviewed revealing that the gunman hailed for him at San Lazaro and spoke fluent Tagalog,[12] but disputes the allegation that the suspect was shot in the leg during the initial standoff with the SWAT by claiming that the suspect was already limping when he exited the taxi to enter the casino (the suspect was later revealed in an autopsy to not be wounded by gunfire in the leg).[24] The footage shows the initial moment when gunfire prompted shoppers, guests, and gamblers to rush for exits and cover, the gunman dousing flammable poker tables and slot machine chairs with gasoline and igniting them, the robbery itself, the gunfight, and the suspect's retreat to the hotel room. The footage also revealed that the suspect unmasked after hiding at the base of the hotel stairwell, revealing his face as he looked directly at one of the cameras during his flight upstairs.[12] Further investigation of public CCTVs in Manila revealed that the suspect acquired three liters of gasoline from a local refueling station around 11:19 pm before boarding the taxi to the casino.[24]

Casino management lapse[edit]

Resorts World Manila president Kingson Sian (left) is queried by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez during the Congressional hearing on the Resorts World incident held at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in Pasay on June 7, 2017. He is joined (from left to right) by Resorts World CEO Stephen Reilly, Pagcor chairperson Andrea Domingo, DILG secretary Catalino Cuy and PNP chief Oscar Albayalde.

The House of Representatives' Committee on Public Order and Safety and the Committee on Games and Amusement opened a probe on the incident on 7 June 2017.[25]

The management of Resorts World Manila admitted that there was a lapse of security in one of the house probes. The casino's CEO, Stephen Reilly said upon reviewing the CCTV footage that some security personnel where not in their posting area when the attacker entered the casino. Resorts World Manila President Kingson Sian said that the management however was able to execute emergency protocol which led to the evacuation of thousands of people from the establishment. Sian in his presentation points out that there were 13 fire exits on the second floor of the casino, 9 of which are in the gaming area.[26]

Queried on why at least 37 people died despite the casino's efforts. Sian said that attacker left a bag of bullets in the room where people suffocated to death. He said that people may have thought that there were many gunmen and decided to stay put instead of leaving for fear of their lives despite the outside area already burning. Sian also alleged that an explosion of a BMW car on display on the second floor contributed to the panic and says that the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) should confirm his claim. The BFP has yet to conduct a fire safety inspection in the area.[26]

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the licensor of Resorts World Manila, said that it had issued a security advisory to its licensee casinos to provide additional precautionary measures in wake of recent terrorist incidents and the martial law declaration in Mindanao.[27]

Resorts World Manila security chief Armeen Gomez's credentials and educational background was scrutinized by House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and Romeo Acop. Gomez claims to have ten years of experience as a security practitioner. Gomez also said that he had only "short, stint training" in his early part of career when asked about his police or military background. He said that he was admitted to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) but claims to have been discharged due to "personal reasons". Acop questioned his conflicting statements regarding his attendance in the PMA and it was found out that Gomez did not finish College. Fariñas expressed doubt on Gomez's credentials and said that the casino's personnel should have been adequately trained. Gomez was already on his way home but returned to the casino when he was informed about the attack.[28]

Claims of terrorist attack[edit]

The attack, occurring concurrently with the Marawi crisis in Mindanao, targeted an area popular with Western and American tourists, fueling speculation of the attack being affiliated to ISIL-aligned Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group, or its sympathizers. SITE Intelligence Group reported that a Marawi-based Filipino operative linked to ISIL, which had used Telegram to report on the ground in the Marawi crisis, claimed via Telegram that "lone wolf soldiers" connected to the group were responsible.[20][29] A day later, the Amaq News Agency claimed the attack was carried out by ISIL fighters, while the group's East Asia division referred to only one attacker named Abou al-Kheir al-Arkhebieli and boasted about the number of Christians killed or wounded.[7] Following the identification of the gunman, on June 8, the same Marawi-based Telegram account further claimed that the casino gunman converted to Islam four months earlier and had informed the Marawi group of the planned attack one week prior to the attack.[29] Since the June 8 Telegram post, no further information and claims from ISIL or its affiliates were publicized regarding the attack.

Since the start of the investigation Dela Rosa has consistently rejected claims of terrorism, stating that the attack may have been a robbery, and refuted eyewitnesses' initial cries that the attack might be linked to any ISIL-related action, which caused panic among many hotel employees and guests.[21] In a follow-up investigation, the Manila police reiterated that they reject claims that multiple attackers were involved, in addition to ruling out terrorism as a motive.[7] Steve Cutler, chairman of the Overseas Security Advisory Council, and former U.S. FBI attaché to Manila, similarly sided with the suspicion that the incident was a robbery, not an act of terrorism.[30] The June 8 Telegram statement was similarly rejected by both intelligence officials and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a Rappler investigation.[29]

Suspected links with twin shooting[edit]

Following the identification of the casino attacker, further investigation was conducted by the Manila police to probe connections between the casino attack and the deaths of Elmer Mitra Jr. and Alvin Cruzin in Paco, Manila on the night of 1 June, two hours prior to the attack.[24] An informant at the Manila Police District divulged that the suspected murderer is theorized to have been pressured by Mitra and Cruzin, who knew the casino attacker,[9] to repay his debt, fueling the theory that they were murdered by the same casino gunman and the killing was motivated by similar reasons as with the casino attack.[31]

According to the informant, Mitra (38), a lawyer and son of former Pasay City prosecutor Elmer Mitra Sr., and Cruzin (43), a former Manila police who retired in 2009 to become a casino financier, were alleged to have met with the suspect at 4 pm on 1 June at Resorts World Manila for coffee, at Maxims Tower,[31] before the three left to travel in Mitra's dark gray BMW 3 Series.[24] CCTV evidence was also provided of the crash itself, depicting Mitra's car traveling along Paco Park at approximately 10 pm, just as gunshots were heard by passerby's before the car crashes and flips over;[32] an occupant emerged from the wreckage and escaped with a limp (corroborating with the taxi driver's account that the casino gunman was already limping before the shooting[24]), leaving Mitra and Cruzin behind, who were later discovered dead, shot in the heads from behind.[31] A figure matching the suspect's description was then sighted via another CCTV recording walking to the suspect's house, before emerging from the house at 11 pm in attire and equipment matching those on the casino gunman.[24] Four 9 mm casings, six bullets and a 9 mm pistol were recovered by the police from the crash site, and the suspect's bloody cargo pants matching the description in the crash footage was also found in the suspect's home.[24][31] On June 22, Senior Inspector Rommel Anicete of the Manila Police District homicide division chief confirmed that the casino gunman is the only person of interest in the twin shooting case following forensic tests on the car wreck.[33]

Perpetrator[edit]

Jessie Javier Carlos
Born (1975-04-19)19 April 1975[citation needed]
Died 2 June 2017(2017-06-02) (aged 42)
Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines
Cause of death Suicide by fire and gunshot
Residence Santa Cruz, Manila
Nationality Filipino
Occupation Tax specialist (until 2012)
Gold mining intermediary (c. 2009)
Cockfighter
Employer Department of Finance (until 2012)
Motive Problem gambling and debt
Details
Date 2 June 2017 (2017-06-02)
Target(s) Resorts World Manila
Weapons M4 rifle

On 4 June, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) identified the lone gunman as Jessie Javier Carlos, 42, a Filipino citizen who resided in Santa Cruz, and a former employee of the Department of Finance.[2][34]

Initially employed as a tax specialist at a One-Stop Shop Tax Credit and Duty Drawback Center, Carlos was dismissed from the Department of Finance in 2012 by the Office of the Ombudsman after the department's Revenue Integrity Protection Service discovered non-declarations/misdeclarations on his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN); Carlos was accused of failing to disclose that he had disproportionately more wealth in assets than his accumulated salary permits, including a Manila property worth 1.1 million pesos (US$22,273) and a two-hectare farm in Tanauan, Batangas that he acquired in 2010 for 4 million pesos (US$81,000).[35] The court proceedings lasted for years and provided extensive insight into Carlos' further business dealings, including his supposedly dormant gun dealing business, Armset Trading, which existed under his wife's name, and his involvement in the mining business in 2009, when he earned 100,000 pesos (US$2,000) pesos a month as an intermediary during a gold rush in Maragusan, Compostela Valley.[36]

Police investigation revealed that Carlos was an avid gambler, often betting large sums of money, and cited his gambling addiction as the primary reason for his mounting personal problems and his eventual motivation to rob a casino. He actively participated in cockfight betting since 2006,[36] and was last active in the scene in Tanauan, where he bred and sold fighting cocks at his farm. To further his gambling, he sold the farm in November 2016 for half of the asking price of 10 million pesos (US$200,755) alongside some of the fighting cocks he reared.[2][37][36] His gambling habits had also led to his separation from his wife and three children and had led to further attempts to sell off private possessions, including his personal vehicle and his home.[2][37] Carlos had also reportedly owned the M4 rifle that he used in the attack, purportedly as a status symbol during his ownership of the fighting cock farm, and unsuccessfully attempted to sell the firearm to the barangay chairman of Darasa in Tanauan for 100,000 pesos.[37]

Carlos eventually developed an addiction to gambling at casinos in an attempt to repay his debt from cockfighting, and was known to have been a high roller regular at various casinos (Resort World Manila was not among the casinos he regularly frequented[2]), until PAGCOR, upon request of next-of-kin, banned him from entering all casinos on 3 April 2017.[2][37]

At the time of the attack and his death, Carlos had accumulated a debt of 4 million pesos in his bank account, in addition to other non-bank related debt.[2]

Reactions[edit]

Domestic[edit]

President Rodrigo Duterte condoles with actress Azenith Briones, whose husband was killed in the attack, June 4, 2017

Malacañang Palace, through a statement from presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, expressed its condolences to the families and friends of the victims. Malacañang reiterated the importance of President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against criminality as a "centerpiece program" of the administration.[38] President Duterte called the gunman "crazy", ruling out any links to ISIL saying the group was more "brutal and cruel".[39] While speaking to reporters in Subic Bay, Duterte apologized for the incident and questioned Resorts World Manila on the layout of their emergency exits. He also denied that the incident was terrorism-related, but warned that a terrorist incident could occur in the Philippines.[40]

Members of the Philippine Congress expressed sadness over the attack. Muntinlupa representative Ruffy Biazon and Senator Joel Villanueva urged the public to remain calm in order to avoid spreading fear and escalating the incident into an issue of national security. Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano labeled the incident as "isolated". Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives Pantaleon Alvarez disagreed with the conclusions of police, who ruled out terrorism in the investigation, and hinted at the possibility of the attack being a "lone wolf terrorist attack"; Alvarez called on the police and the military to cooperate closely in ensuring public safety against terrorism.[41][42] Gabriela Women's Party Representative Emmi de Jesus expressed hope that the incident would not prompt the extension and expansion of martial law, which had already been declared in Mindanao following the Marawi crisis. Senators Win Gatchalian and Grace Poe urged establishments, particularly tourism facilities, to tighten security.[43] Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former director-general of the Philippine National Police, urged the police to prevent speculation from interfering in their investigation.[44] Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III raised questions to the management and PAGCOR regarding the security arrangements and concern for safety in casino hotels, while Senator Francis Pangilinan also raised similar questions.[45]

The National Economic and Development Authority assured that the fundamentals of the Philippine economy would not change due to the incident, which director-general Ernesto Pernia described as an "isolated criminal case of robbery."[46]

A number of local celebrities offered their prayers to the victims of the attack.[47]

In response to the attack, the police has increased its presence in shopping malls in Metro Manila.[48]

Manila airport closure[edit]

From 1:45 to 3:45 am (UTC+8) during the attack, the main gates of the four terminals of the nearby Ninoy Aquino International Airport were shut down as a precaution. Only passengers and airport personnel already inside were able to move between terminals during the shutdown. Four flights of the Philippine Airlines were delayed Operations of the airport normalized the following day but security measures were heightened. The issuance of access passes to passengers were temporarily suspended. Cebu Pacific offered free refunding or rebooking for its patrons that book flights scheduled on June 2, 2017.[49]

Responses to gambling industry[edit]

PAGCOR suspended the operating license of Resorts World Manila on 9 June 2017 until it deems that it has rectified "its serious security lapses and deficiencies" saying that the incident put the gaming, tourism, and hospitality industries of the Philippines "in a bad light".[50] PAGCOR has also said that it will require its other casino and resort licensees to submit their security protocols as part of measures to prevent the repeat of a similar incident.[50]

On the same day, The Philippine National Police ordered the relieving of security guards posted in the entrance and exits of the Resorts World Manila casino.[51]

International[edit]

The European Union expressed sympathy to the family and friends of the attack's victims and the Philippine government and hope for the speedy recovery of the injured. United States President Donald Trump expressed sadness over the incident, which he labeled as a terrorist attack, and added that U.S. officials "were closely monitoring the situation."[52][53] U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo from Guam condemned the attack and offered assistance to constituents on Guam attempting to contact family members at the resort.[54] The embassies of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued travel advisories to their citizens, informing them to avoid the area and to follow the advice of local authorities.[55]

Travellers International Hotel Group, the operator of Resorts World Manila, condemned the attack as a "cowardly act of a deranged mind."[56]

Aftermath[edit]

The license suspension imposed by PAGCOR was lifted on June 29, 2017 and on the same day Resort World Manila resumed its gambling operations in gaming areas not affected by the attack.[57]

The casino resort experienced a decline in revenue, causing management to rush "Phase 3" of the facility's development. It hired Blackpanda, a private security consultant, to tighten its security procedures.[58] The gambling area on the second floor affected by the attack will be converted to be part of the shopping mall. By September 2017 the casino had recovered most of its visitorship, accommodating 26,000 people per day on average compared to 28,000 prior to the attack.[59]

References[edit]

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