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ISIS claims Philippines casino attack, but doesn’t give evidence

MANILLA -- ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack at a casino in the Philippines capital that left more than 37 people dead, despite repeated police claims it was not terror related.

A lone gunman entered the Resorts World Manila in the early hours of Friday morning, firing shots from an assault rifle and setting fire to gambling tables. More than 37 people died in the resulting blaze, most of them believed to be from suffocation.

A statement released by ISIS' Amaq news agency said "Islamic State fighters carried out" the attack. However, ISIS has not released names or pictures of the alleged "soldiers" who carried out that attack, which they tend to do.

Police had said on multiple occasions that the attack was not related to terrorism, and emphasized that there was only one person not multiple attackers involved.

Philippines government forces are currently fighting ISIS-linked militants on the southern island of Mindanao, where the two sides have been battling for control of the city of Marawi for over a week.

How the attack unfolded

The armed suspect forced his way into the Resorts World Manila (RWM), an upmarket hotel and casino complex near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, around midnight local time (Thursday ET).

According to security footage viewed by police, the gunman entered via the parking lot. Police later searched a car and found registration information which they haven't made public.

The attacker walked straight into the building, past a lone security guard who panicked when she saw the suspect's automatic rifle, Albayalde said.

Reilly said only guards on the complex's perimeter are armed. Internal security officers don't carry weapons, and didn't try to engage the suspect, fearing escalation of the situation, he said.

Video of the scenes showed guests frantically running for the exits, the sound of gunshots and smoke coming from the upper floors of buildings.

The man ransacked a room and stole gaming chips, Philippines National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa said early Friday. He had stuffed chips totaling 113 million pesos ($2.3 million) in a backpack, but this had been recovered by police, he added.

Apolinario confirmed that during the incident the gunman had engaged in a "firefight" with casino employees.

Stephen Reilly, the resort's Chief Operating Officer, said the attacker was shot and wounded by security guards, and retreated into the hotel room where he doused a bed he was lying on in gasoline and shot himself.

"We would like to extend our gratitude to our security team," Reilly said.

According to a statement from RWM, the gunman was found dead around 7 a.m. local time.

"He had taken his own life by setting himself on fire followed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound," the statement said. Police confirmed he had died in a room on the fifth floor of the complex's hotel.

CNN Philippines reported he was found in the room, burned beyond recognition, next to an automatic weapon and a .380 caliber pistol.

Witness 'could smell smoke'

Hundreds of guests and employees rushed out of the resort hotel after the gunman began shooting on the second floor, hotel employees fleeing the scene told CNN Philippines.

Jay Dones, a witness on the scene, said some employees had told him a gunman fired shots in the air.

"One of the employees told me that the suspect began pouring the contents of the bottle on one of the tables and lit it on fire," Dones said.

Witnesses also told about hearing what sounded like explosions.

"I could smell some kind of smoke that came from an explosive device," said Tikos Low, who said he was in the resort's casino along with a few hundred other people when the attack began.

The resort was put on lockdown and heavily armed SWAT officers wearing bulletproof vests and body armor descended on the scene.

The gunman didn't appear to be firing at people, said PNP Chief Dela Rosa.