Friday, June 2, 2017

Was the Manila casino attacker just a robber or was he working for ISIS?

An image of the alleged attacker captured on security camera. Reuters. 

Questions are being raised about the attack on the Resorts World Manila casino in the Philippines as ISIS has taken credit for the attack. Reuters. 36 people died after the unidentified man entered the casino, fired his gun into the ceiling and attempted to steal casino chips. He then set table games on fire and then retreated to a hotel room and set himself on fire, killing himself. The Philippines government says that the attack was just a botched robbery, and the fact that the gunman didn't shoot anyone lends credence to that theory. However, ISIS's Amaq news agency has taken credit for the attack. The Philippines has been on high alert ever since ISIS took partial control of Marawi city and have been fighting the militants since in fierce battles. 

My Comment:
Nothing about this story makes sense. I could see it as an attempted robbery, an ISIS attack or even a lone nut job doing things for his own reason. Or some combination of all three. I think there is evidence for each theory, but there are also severe problems with all of them as well. 

The official line is that this was a robbery. Obviously the suspect tried to steal a huge amount of casino chips. The Reuters report said that the value of those chips was $2.3 million dollars. The problem with the robbery angle is that those casino chips would be completely worthless once stolen. Each casino has their own chips and I am guessing that after such a robbery the chips would be redesigned and anyone who tried to cash in the old chips would be arrested on the spot. I guess that doesn't completely rule out the possibility that this was a robbery, but the suspect would have to be very stupid to not understand how casinos work. 

A terror attack is another possibility. I have to say though that it's important to not overrate the importance of ISIS taking credit for this attack. ISIS has a very long history of taking credit for attacks they had nothing to do with. And they have an obvious motive to lie considering how deadly this incident is. If they can make people believe that ISIS was the group responsible for this attack even if they didn't actually do it, they reap all the benefits of an actual terror attack. That doesn't mean that this wasn't an ISIS attack though, just that their claim isn't actual proof. It is evidence, but circumstantial evidence at best. 

There are also some very obvious flaws with the terror attack theory. Though reportadly armed with an Armalite style rifle (probably some kind of M-16 or a civilian version of the gun), there have been no reports of anyone getting hit from gunfire. All the deaths and injury are from smoke inhalation or injures sustained while fleeing. Generally, the point of carrying a weapon in a terror attack is to kill civilians, and to not do so seems to point the motive in other directions. 

On the other hand, the suspect came prepared to burn the casino, possibly changing the method of attack from a mass shooting to arson. I have always said that using arson as a terror weapon could be extremely effective and I guess it is possible that he only had the gun to keep people from preventing him from setting the fires. 

I also have to point out that Islam considers gambling to be a major sin. They call it Maisir and condemns gambling with the rational that you shouldn't obtain wealth and risk loss without working for it. Since radical Muslims have attacked other places that house what they consider sin, such as bars, clubs and LGBT hangouts, it would not be all that surprising if they started to target casinos as well. That would mean that Resorts World Manila would be a tempting target. Even if this attacker didn't have ties to ISIS, if he supported them, this would be an acceptable target for him to attack based on religion alone. 

Finally, it's possible that this guy was just completely nuts and did what he did for reasons that only made sense to him. I would say that it is possible, though the level of organization for this attack makes that unlikely. The attacker had to secure a weapon, gasoline and a hotel room in order to pull this attack off and that seems beyond the capability of a mentally ill person. On the other hand, the relative senselessness and illogical way this attack was pulled off could point to a sick mind. 

My personal thought is that it might be a combination of all three motives. The attacker may have been inspired by ISIS and hoped to rob the casino or their ill-gotten and immoral gains. The funds could have gone to ISIS or to support further terror attacks. He also wanted to burn down the casino not just to cause chaos and confusion, but perhaps death as well. But since he was either a bit crazy or a bit stupid, his plan went off horribly and he had to kill himself when authorities arrived. I don't know for sure if that is what happened, and we may have to wait awhile to find out the truth, but I think that's the most likely possibility. 

One thing we do know is that ISIS is a real threat in the Philippines. The battle for Marawi city continues and is not going well. There has been a major friendly fire incident and the general in charge of the battle has been relieved. Even if this attack was just a bank robbery gone bad or a lone nutjob attacking for his own reasons, the threat of ISIS in the Philippines is real and out of control. President Rodrigo Duretre needs to solve this problem and solve it fast before it grows beyond what his government can handle... 

I also want to point out that this story raised a bunch of red flags for me. When first reported there was no reports of civilian casualties, only the suspect had died. After quite some time though, it was announced that almost 40 people had died in the attack. That tells me that the news media and the government of the Philippines weren't being completely honest about the incident as that should have been very obvious from the start. It's possible that we are still being lied to...

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