At least 36 people died after a gunman burst into a Manila casino, firing shots and setting gaming tables alight, a spokesman for the Philippine president said on Friday, in what officials believe was a botched robbery attempt.

There was no evidence linking the attack at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex to fighting between government troops and Islamist militants in the country’s south, said Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.

“All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual,” Abella told a media conference. “Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to do harm or shoot anyone.”

Most of the dead suffocated in the chaos as guests and staff tried to flee choking smoke at the complex after the drama that began shortly after midnight (1600 GMT).

Oscar Albayalde, chief of the capital’s police office, said those that died were in the casino’s main gaming area. “What caused their deaths is the thick smoke,” he said. “The room was carpeted and of course the tables, highly combustible.”

A Resorts World Manila official said the dead included 13 employees and 22 guests.

Death in room 510

Around dawn, the body of the suspected gunman was found in a hotel room in the still-smoking complex, which is close to Ninoy Aquino International Airport and an air force base, police said.

“He burned himself inside the hotel room 510,” national police chief Ronald dela Rosa told a media conference. “He lay down on the bed, covered himself in a thick blanket and apparently doused himself in gasoline.”

The bodies of two of the victims had been taken to the Veronica funeral parlour, staff member Leni Domingo said.

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Resort owner Travellers International Hotel Group, a joint venture of the Philippines’ Alliance Global Group and Genting Hong Kong Ltd, said authorities were still seeking details.

“We have been informed of several casualties, the number and identities of whom have yet to be determined,” it said in a statement. Its shares were down 7%

Officials said at least 54 people were hurt, some seriously, as they rushed to escape what at first had been feared as a militant attack.

“Don’t panic, this is not a cause for alarm. We cannot attribute this to terrorism,” national police chief dela Rosa told DZMM radio.

“We are looking into a robbery angle because he did not hurt any people and went straight to the casino chips storage room. He parked at the second floor and barged into the casino, shooting large TV screens and poured gasoline on a table setting it on fire,” he said.

Police said the gunman was tall with a pale complexion and spoke English.

National police chief dela Rosa earlier told DZMM radio that the lone gunman had not aimed his assault rifle at people.

Shots and loud bangs rang out shortly after midnight in the buildings.

A security guard stops photographers from entering the vicinity of Resorts World Manila after gunshots and explosions were heard in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
A security guard stops photographers from entering the vicinity of Resorts World Manila after gunshots and explosions were heard. Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro

A Reuters witness saw armed police entering a hotel near the complex. Videos posted earlier on social media showed people fleeing as several loud bangs were heard.

Jeri Ann Santiago, who works in the emergency room at the San Juan de Dios hospital, close to Resorts World, said 13 people had been treated. Most of the patients were suffering the effects of smoke inhalation and some had injuries such as fractures, she said, adding that none had gunshot wounds.

A policeman alights from an armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) near the Resorts World Manila after gunshots and explosions were heard in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
A policeman alights from an armored fighting vehicle (AFV) near the Resorts World Manila in Pasay City. Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Heightened alert

The Philippines has been on heightened alert amid a crisis in the south of the country, where troops have been battling Islamist rebels since May 23. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao last week.

US President Donald Trump said Washington was closely monitoring events unfolding in Manila. The US embassy in Manila told Americans there to exercise caution and review their personal security.

As the drama unfolded, dozens of police trucks and a handful of huge Special Action Force vans and armored personnel carriers lined side streets near the hotel, casino and shopping mall complex.

Evacuated employees and guests of hotels stand along a road and watch as smoke billows from a Resorts World building in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
Evacuated employees and guests of hotels watch as smoke billows from a Resorts World building. Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Gil Yonco, 54, stood weeping in the street at around 5am. His daughter had been inside Resorts World on the second floor and called her father for help because she was getting suffocated by smoke.

He tried calling back, but there was no answer. “I am very worried as a parent, I need to find her,” he said.

A casino worker from the third floor of the complex told DZMM radio he heard many gunshots and saw people running up the stairs from the second floor.

Ronald Romualdo, a maintenance worker at Resorts World, told the station he saw a woman fall from an upper floor, while trying to escape. “Several people were injured,” he said.