A purported Islamic State operative in the Philippines is peeved over the Philippine government’s insistence that a deadly attack on a Manila casino complex was carried out by an indebted gambler, rather than a “soldier of the caliphate.”
Thirty-six people suffocated to death in thick smoke after a gunman barged into the Resorts World Manila complex on Friday June 2, fired shots and set gaming tables alight. Security footage appeared to show the suspect stealing casino chips; he later committed suicide in a hotel room after sustaining gunshot wounds from police.
Police later identified the gunman as 42-year-old Jessie Javier Carlos, who they said was a former government employee with a gambling problem. They ruled out any links with Islamist militants.
But a post shared on the encrypted messaging service Telegram claims that Carlos adopted the Muslim name “Khair” after converting to Islam four months ago, and carried out the attack because gambling is haram, or forbidden, in Islam.
WATCH: Dozens dead after gunman torches casino in the Philippines
Amarasingam confirmed to Global News that such a post was in fact posted on Telegram soon after the attack. He says the free cloud-based app has become the “epicenter” of global jihadist communications.
“They maintain several channels where they broadcast official and non-official content to supporters,” Amarasingam said. “One of these channels presumes to be run by a fighter in the Philippines. It is on this channel where the first non-official claim of the attack was posted.”
It’s difficult to judge the credibility of this particular Telegram source, Amarasingam says, because any ISIS cells in the Philippines are likely less connected to the group’s central command than networks in, say, the Middle East.
But Amarasingam says there is a precedent for ISIS making plausible claims about attacks in the face of government assertions to the contrary.
He cites the case of the Bangladesh bakery attack in July 2016, which authorities blamed on indigenous Islamist extremists – despite strong signs the attack was carried out by fighters with close ties to the Islamic State group’s media and propaganda team.
“Photos were posted from inside the bakery before the standoff was over, photos of the attackers was posted shortly after, and a video of the attackers declaring their commitment to ISIS was posted shortly after that,” he says. “So, while the Bangladeshi government denied that ISIS was active in their country, it was clear that something else was going on.”
He adds that governments have several reasons for denying the involvement of international terrorist groups within their borders, such as unwanted international attention.
For over two weeks now, Philippine troops have been involved in a protracted battle with ISIS-linked militants on the southern island of Mindanao, where it is feared the group, which is on the back foot in Syria and Iraq, might be bidding to build a regional base on the island’s largest city Marawi, which is overwhelmingly Muslim.
Officials say 39 security personnel and 20 civilians have been killed by the militants, while hundreds more civilians are believed to have been taken hostage or used as human shields.
Still, President Rodrigo Duterte has insisted Islamic State militants weren’t involved in any way in the Manila casino attack, which law enforcement officials have dubbed a botched robbery attempt carried out by a heavily indebted gambling addict.
But the purported ISIS post on Telegram offered an ominous warning.
“My message to the Philippine government denying the fact our soldiers conducted the attack, just wait. By Allah’s permission another strike will come and believe me you will never see it coming.”
– With files from Reuters