At least two people are now believed to have died in the incident, Reuters reports, citing a local TV company and a funeral home. It has not been clarified if the victims died of injuries receiving during the panic caused by the appearance of the gunman, or if the attacker was the direct cause.
Smoke was earlier seen billowing from the building’s upper floor amid a manhunt for the gunman.
The gunman did not intend to kill anyone, and may have wanted to steal casino chips, said the country’s chief of police, contradicting Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL), which earlier claimed the attack.
“We cannot say this is an act of terror, he did not hurt anyone,” Ronald Dela Rosa told DZMM radio “If you are a terrorist you will sow terror.”
Latest media reports suggest that 54 people have sought medical help as a result of the attack, receiving treatment for physical injuries as well as smoke inhalation. No gunfire injuries have been reported.
Philippines Red Cross earlier reported that 25 victims had been delivered to hospitals across Manila, but Dela Rosa said that the injuries mostly a consequence of the panic, resulting from the appearance of the masked attacker, who reportedly carried a gun and a canister of gasoline, which he used to start a fire at a casino table. Several eyewitnesses said that bystanders jumped out of windows in terror of the gunman.
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The perpetrator, whom Dela Rosa described as “Caucasian” remains at large, but the official said that most of the rooms inside the sprawling complex had been checked and declared safe.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, via a channel it normally uses to report on its uprising against the government in the province of Marawi, SITE Intelligence Group reported.
Fleeing staff said that the suspect was immediately identified as a terrorist, causing chaos.
“I was about to return to the second floor from my break when I saw people running. Some hotel guests said someone yelled ‘ISIS’,” Maricel Navaro, en employee, told DZMM radio.
“We went to the basement locker room and hid there. People were screaming, guests and employees were in panic,” Navaro said. When we smelled smoke, we decided to go for the exit in the carpark. That’s where we got out. Before we exited, we heard two gunshots and there was thick smoke on the ground floor.”
The US State Department has acknowledged the attack and warned citizens to stay away from the vicinity of the mall, including the country’s main Ninoy Aquino Airport, which is responsible for handling over 100,000 passengers daily.
The attack came amid an escalating standoff between government forces and Islamist rebels on the traditionally restive southern island of Mindanao, which have been re-energized by an alliance with Islamic State.
Over 170 people, most of them militants, have died in recent weeks as the government has deployed the army to retake the city of Marawi from the Islamists.
Martial law has been declared on Mindanao, home to 20 million people, and President Rodrigo Duterte said that its use could be extended nationwide, prior to the Manila attack on Friday morning.