Hotel Attacks

4 June 2017, Update on Resorts World Manila attack

On 3 June, Resorts World Manila released comprehensive CCTV footage of the 2 June attack on its Maxims Hotel and attached casino. The resort’s Chief Security Officer, Armeen Gomez, narrated the footage. Watch the video, and read the associated article here.

So far, the resort and police say 38 were killed, and as many as 70 were wounded.

A synopsis of the attack is as follows:

  • The gunman, identified as a large, Philippine-looking man, approached the hotel via taxi at 12:07 a.m., demonstrating no ill intent or weaponry. He kept his attack kit and weaponry inside his large black backpack. (Since posting, he has been identified as Jessie Carlos Javier, Philippine citizen, 42 years old, and with financial problems; read more about him here.)
  • Once inside the hotel elevators, the gunman appeared to put on a mask. From there, he drew his M-4 carbine (a short barreled model, possibly type 733, 920, 933, or a similar variant), bypassed security, and assailed the casino, firing sparingly at the walls, forcing gamblers to flee. Many of the panicked guests shouted “ISIS!,” assuming it was a terror attack.
  • As an aside, the property manager said in a press conference that the resort’s armed guards were, as a matter of policy, posted outside the venue, and unarmed guards were posted inside.
  • As the gunman opened fire, Chief Security Officer Gomez said the resort called the police and began evacuating their 12,154 guests.
  • The gunman then used a liquid accelerant to set fire to several gambling tables, Bar 180, and the carpet in front of a row of slot machines. Chief Security Officer Gomez said the police figured the accelerant might have been gasoline or kerosene.
  • The property manager said in a press conference that the fire sprinklers did come on, though this was not visible in the CCTV video of the attack.
  • The gunman then made his way to the casino’s vault by breaching several doors, shooting through the locks with his carbine. At one point, the weapon jammed, and the gunman calmly cleared it, and proceeded with his attack. Once in the vault, he methodically scanned for currency or gambling chips to steal. He quickly identified the most valuable chips, and absconded with them. The resort said the stolen chips amounted to 113 million pesos, or $2,289,544.98 USD.
  • As the gunman tried to make his escape, armed resort security personnel (sporting M-4/M-16 type weaponry,) engaged him in the hotel basement/lower stairwell. They appeared to have wounded the gunman; thereafter he walked with a noticeable limp. One security guard reportedly shot and killed himself in the mix.
  • The gunman then entered a hotel hallway, set bed linens on fire, and shot his way into hotel room 501. There, he set himself on fire and shot himself in the head.
  • As smoke filled the hotel, at 1:46 am, a Manila police SWAT team breached his room and found his body.

The entire incident took about one hour and forty minutes.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on 2 June through its Amaq news agency, saying, “Islamic State fighters” were involved. Later, though its East Asia division, ISIS said only one of its fighters, Abou al-Kheir al-Arkhebieli, attacked the venue, targeting Christians before killing himself, reports CNN.

The Manila Fire Department said the attacker was known to the casino, and he was probably lashing out after having lost excessive amounts of money there.

Finally, it is not yet clear where most of the victims died. Metro Manila Police Chief Oscar Albayalde says most of them were found in the gaming area. Video of the attack shows no civilians in the casino areas where the arson occurred.

There are six takeaways to date. First, the gunman demonstrated at least basic, tactical assault efficiency and planning. His “Trojan horse style” entry tactics were effectual, his arson kit and attack was effective, his breaching of the casino vault doors was successful, and he demonstrated weapons proficiency. When his gun jammed, he calmly cleared it, and continued his attack. His magazine changes were smooth. He appeared calm and almost casual throughout.

Second, because the gunman proceeded from point to point with all deliberation, it is likely he had intelligence on the casino/hotel prior to his attack, and he might have personally reconnoitered it beforehand.

Third, regarding intent, the gunman was obviously there to rob the casino, and he probably would have shot and killed people in the process if his purpose was pure terrorism. While setting the casino on fire could certainly have been for the purposes of distraction, it is evident he was indeed bent on destruction. While one good fire could have served as cover for his robbery and egress, this gunman took the time to set fires at three different locations in the casino. Additionally, when his exit was blocked by hotel/casino security, he lit a fire in the hotel that had no other purpose than to cause harm to the building and its guests.

While this scenario could indeed fit the Manila FD’s commentary as to the gunman’s motivation, it could also feed other explanations.

As for the ISIS claims, at the moment, they are just claims, and more evidence is needed to label this an ISIS attack. Having said this, terrorists commonly conduct robberies to fund their operations; witness Islamists in Indonesia, for example.

Fourth, regarding security, based on the current information available, the guard force acted properly in calling first responders, locking down the facility, and evacuating its 12,000 plus guests. CCTV coverage was extensive, and by this, security was apparently able to help police locate the gunman’s final location.

Fifth, Resort World Manila’s stated policy of posting unarmed guards inside the casino/hotel and armed guards outside was/is inadequate. In a country beset by ISIS and several other hostile groups (some attacks covered by Muir Analytics here and here), plus being located in a city with a high crime rate, posting armed guards inside the resort was/is warranted.

Sixth, it did not appear as if the armed security personnel that confronted the gunman had close quarters battle (CQB) training, as several of them occupied open doorways, worked singularly, and neglected cover and concealment. It must be said, however, that CQB is difficult, and stressful, and mastering it requires a high degree of technical training and continued practice. Regardless of their training, the resort’s armed guard force demonstrated bravery and was able to contain the shooter and apparently wound him, which ultimately led to him to take his own life. In doing so, they helped neutralize the threat, which saved lives.

Moving forward, additional details are necessary for a more thorough analysis of what happened. Lessons learned in this case could save lives at other hospitality venues in the Philippines and around the world. The high casualty count here should trigger a full accounting, but there will be some officials who will obfuscate the facts to protect various parties because of apparent lax security and liability exposures.

Muir Analytics will continue to follow this case, and it will adjust its analyses as more facts become available.

Sources and further reading:

Gunman still unknown,” The Manila Times, 3 June 2017.

Police questioning driver in Resorts World attack probe,” The Philippine Star, 3 June 2017.

WATCH: How lone gunman started Resorts World Manila assault,” ABS-CBN news, 3 June 2017.

Don’t spread fake news about Resorts World incident, Palace asks public,” The Enquirer, 2 June 2017.

KILLER IN MANILA: Manila attack leaves 36 dead after ‘English-speaking’ gunman storms Resorts World casino in bid to steal £1.7m before setting it on fire,” The Sun, 2 June 2017.

Terrorism ruled out in Resorts World attack; gunman stole casino chips,” The Inquirer, 2 June 2017.

What we know: Attack at Resorts World Manila,” The Philippine Star, 2 June 2017.

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