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World & Nation

Philippine police say casino attacker was an indebted gambler

Mourners in the Philippine capital, Manila, light candles and lay flowers in front of a memorial out
Mourners in Manila pay tribute to victims of the attack at Resorts World Manila.
(Todd Pitman / AP)

The lone suspect behind a deadly attack on a casino and shopping complex in the Philippine capital that left dozens dead was a heavily indebted Filipino who was hooked on gambling, police said Sunday.

Manila Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said the man’s immediate family confirmed his identity as Jessie Carlos — a married father of three and former Finance Department employee who owed more than $80,000.

The revelations confirm that “this is not an act of terrorism,” Albayalde told a news conference. “This incident is confined to the act of one man alone as we have always said.”

Authorities have repeatedly dismissed a claim of responsibility by Islamic State for Friday’s attack on Resorts World Manila. The Philippines has faced a Muslim insurgency in the country’s south for decades, and government forces in recent weeks have been battling Islamic militants who tried to seize the southern city of Marawi.

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In Manila on Sunday, the attacker’s distraught mother, Teodora, wept during the news briefing and asked for forgiveness. “We’re asking for your apology. We can’t accept ourselves that my son became like this, he was a very kind son,” she said. “He chose to end his life rather than kill people.”

“The message of what happened to my son is people should not get hooked on gambling so their families won’t get destroyed,” she said.

Albayalde said the man had sold off property to support his gambling habit of at least several years, including a vehicle. His family had grown so concerned they had asked casinos in the capital to ban him since April 3.

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On Saturday, authorities released security footage showing Carlos casually exiting a taxi just after midnight and walking into a vast entertainment and gambling complex like any other visitor. Shortly afterward, he dons a black ski mask, slips on an ammunition vest and pulls an M4 carbine assault rifle out of his backpack.

What follows borders on the surreal: a slow-motion arson attack and robbery so methodical and unhurried, the gunman appears to walk much of the way — even as he exchanges fire with a security guard and flees, slightly wounded, up a stairwell.

At least 37 patrons and employees died, mostly from smoke inhalation as they tried to hide in one of the casino’s VIP rooms on the second floor, Albayalde said. The gunman fled to an adjoining hotel, where police say he killed himself.

The video footage bolstered the government’s case that the attack was a botched robbery attempt by one man with no known link to terrorism, and police said that’s exactly why they wanted to release it.

Although the attacker was well-armed — Albayalde said he was carrying 90 bullets in three rifle clips — there are no confirmed reports that he shot any civilians. Instead, he fired into the ceilings, scattering panicked crowds, some of whom jumped out of windows to escape what they believed to be a terror attack.

Albayalde said the security footage contained a motive: The gunman headed straight for a storage room that contained poker chips. He is seen shooting through several thick white doors, breaking down one of them at 12:18 a.m. Friday — only 11 minutes after his arrival. Abayalde suggested he set fires as a diversionary tactic and his next move was to try to get out.

More than 12,000 people were in the complex at the time; most were evacuated.

In his first remarks on the assault, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday that the attacker was simply “crazy.” He questioned what the gunman was going to do with the $2-million horde of poker chips he had tried to haul away. He also discounted any links to Islamic State, saying this “is not the work of ISIS. The work of the ISIS is more cruel and brutal.”

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