MANILA, Philippines — A shooting at a sprawling Manila resort that caused hundreds of people to stampede was an attempt by a lone thief to rob gamblers and not a terrorist attack, Philippines National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa said Friday.
Hundreds of guests and employees rushed out of a hotel at Resorts World Manila after a masked gunman on the second floor began firing at guests, hotel employees fleeing the scene told CNN Philippines.
The resort was put on lockdown and heavily armed SWAT officers wearing bulletproof vests and body armor descended on the scene, Camille Abadicio of CNN Philippines said.
Video captured people fleeing, the sound of gunshots and smoke coming from the upper floors of buildings.
Around 4 a.m. Friday, Resorts Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly told reporters police were looking inside the buildings for one suspect.
Jay Dones, a witness on the scene, said the incident started around midnight Thursday (noon ET) and that some employees said gunman fired shots in the air.
Dones said employees told him they saw two suspects wearing black and carrying long firearms.
“One of them was carrying a bottle,” Dones said. “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.”
Tikos Low said he was in the resort’s casino, along with a few hundred other people, when the attack began. Low said he heard what sounded like an explosion.
“I could smell some kind of smoke that came from an explosive device,” he said.
Several hours later, witnesses on the scene said the shooting had stopped. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
It was not immediately clear how many people may have been injured or killed in the attack. A Philippines Red Cross official said at least 25 people were hurt, reported The Manila Times.
The Philippines Red Cross tweeted that it had transported three people from the resort to hospitals.
Dones said emergency personnel said they had treated people for smoke inhalation and bruises, but not for gunshot wounds.
All terminals at Ninoy Aquino International Airport were placed on lockdown because of the attack, according to Robert Echano with airport operations. The airport is about a mile away from the resort.
Reilly confirmed shots were fired, but did not give details on how many gunmen might be inside.
“We are still investigating the situation,” Reilly said in a statement. “We are searching the area as much as we can to make sure the building is clear.”
In Quezon City, one of the municipalities in metro Manila, Police District Director Guillermo Eleazar ordered all 12 police stations in the city to set up checkpoints and to maximize police visibility. All mobile patrol units and tactical motorized units of QCPD have been deployed to secure the city.
Eleazar also called on the public to remain calm and to refrain from spreading unverified information and to be vigilant at all times.
Resorts World Manila, also known as RWM, is a resort complex in Newport City, a residential and commercial center in metropolitan Manila.
The sprawling complex has an array of hotels, restaurants and bars. Tourists flock to the complex for its casino, cinema and stores, which include several Western retailers such as Hugo Boss, Lacoste and Kate Spade.
The complex, which is described on RWM’s website as “the first and largest integrated resort in the Philippines,” is across from Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Shortly after the incident began, the US State Department warned citizens to avoid the area.
The Philippines has been grappling with incidents of terrorism, especially on the southern island of Mindanao. There, in the city of Marawi, government forces have been battling ISIS-linked militants for control of the city.
The battle for Marawi, a largely Muslim city, has displaced at least 70,000 residents and left 140 people dead. The terrorist siege began last week, just as Muslims worldwide started to mark the holy month of Ramadan.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law over the island of Mindanao in light of the crisis. Duterte also suggested he might extend martial law through year’s end or impose it nationwide, alarming critics.