Was that Manila attack an act of terrorism? Trump and Philippine officials differ

Mourners offer candles and flowers for victims of an attack at the Resorts World Manila complex.
(Aaron Favila / AP)

Was it terrorism or not?

On Friday around 2 a.m., a man described by Philippine government officials as tall, mustachioed and English-speaking entered the Resorts World Manila casino with an assault rifle, stuffed casino chips in his bag, lit gambling tables on fire, then set himself aflame before turning his gun on himself. In the end, the attacker and 35 other people were dead.

A few hours later, the terror group Islamic State released a statement through its news agency, Amaq, claiming responsibility for the attack.

Then President Trump weighed in. It was still Thursday afternoon in the U.S.


“I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila,” he said at the start of Rose Garden briefing to announced the U.S. pull-out from the Paris climate agreement. “We’re closely monitoring the situation and I will continue to give updates, anything happens during this period of time, but it is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror.”

Case closed. Or not.

But hours after the attack, the Philippine government said that based on the available evidence the tragedy had nothing to do with terrorism.

They suggested it was robbery gone wrong and that the suspect was simply an “emotionally disturbed individual.”

“He did not bring anything and we recovered his bag and all it contained was casino chips,” Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said in a statement. “Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to harm or shoot anyone.”

Most of the victims apparently died of smoke inhalation. Video of the incident showed frantic employees and guests scrambling to exit the building through black smoke.

Just to be clear, the government made another announcement Friday, saying that the suspect had no ties to Islamic State or any link to Islamist militant groups based on the Philippine island of Mindanao, where Duterte declared martial law in late May after they skirmished with government troops.

The resort, a popular tourism destination, said in a statement on Facebook that it was trying to inform families of the dead and will offer assistance.

“This is a very difficult time for all of us here in Resorts World Manila,” the statement said. “We consider our guests, patrons and our employees as our family.”

It may take a while before the survivors have answers. More than 30 hours after the attack, authorities still didn’t have a motive for the violence.

They said they didn’t even know the attacker’s name.

Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad