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Terror Attack in Philippines: Explosions, Gunfire at Resorts World Manila. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired June 01, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:11] ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera. I want to welcome our viewers around the world and here in the U.S. We begin with breaking news.

Right now we are following reports of an attack unfolding at a tourist resort in the capital of the Philippines. Gunfire and explosions have been heard at the Resorts World Manila. This is a casino and hotel. A complex, near Manila's international airport. And police, fire trucks, S.W.A.T. teams, they are all on the scene right now. This information is coming to us from CNN Philippines.

It happened just after midnight, local time there, but this casino that operates 24 hours a day. At this stage, we don't have reports of any deaths or injuries. Of course it's a developing situation.

And let me give you the back drop here of this. This is -- a recent insurgence we've been seeing of ISIS militants and anti-ISIS bombing campaign happening right now in the Philippines marking the terror group's first significant foothold outside the Middle East. Again, no confirmation at this hour exactly who is involved in this latest attack.

I want to bring in Ivan Watson who is joining us from Singapore.

Ivan, what are you hearing and learning?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, this is still very much a developing situation. And as you reported, as we're hearing from our sister network CNN Philippines, reports of gunfire, of explosions taking place around a hotel complex that is very close to the international airport in Manila, in the Philippines capital.

Reports of people fleeing the scene. This complex has a number of hotels in it. It has a shopping mall and also a casino complex as well. We're getting reports of heavily armed Philippine security forces, S.W.A.T. police officers moving to the area as well as fire trucks as well.

We do not know who is behind this. No claims of responsibility. No confirmations of any casualties at this time.

The context is important. We don't have any direct correlation here. Again, any claims of responsibility. But this comes about a week after there's been just a surge of violence on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao.

When you have Islamism militants who have aligned themselves with ISIS, who took over, took control of a town called Marawi there. Tens of thousands of people have fled. Reports of more than 100 casualties there. And the government has had to declare martial law on that island.

This is, of course, the Philippines capital, very far from that island. And it's still very much an unfolding situation. And we'll be bringing you up to date as we learn more from the Philippines security forces and from eyewitnesses on the ground around the Resorts World complex there near the airport.


CABRERA: Ivan, one of the eyewitnesses we heard from earlier here on CNN was describing the scene, talking about hearing explosions and gunfire, but that that has since stopped.

Do you know any more, whether this is still an active assault that's taking place? Or whether the perpetrators here have been captivated?

WATSON: We haven't gotten any information from Philippines officials yet at this time. It's worth noting, it's only 2:00 in the morning right now in Manila. And this has clearly created at least among hotel employees very much a sense of panic and concern. So we're still trying to piece together what exactly has happened there. And is this in fact still an unfolding situation. So we're just going to have to bring you up-to-date as we get more information about that, Ana.

CABRERA: We'll let you continue to work your sources and gathering that information.

I want to bring in Col. Cedric Leighton, CNN military analyst, who has been to this area many times.

What strikes you about what you're learning?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST (via telephone): Well, Ana, I think the biggest thing here is that, you know, this is an area where a lot of Filipinos go for their vacation time, for their leisure time and also attracts a lot of foreign tourists.

So what you're finding is a soft target. This is a classic soft target for terrorists to go after. And the fact that they are doing this indicates that whoever is behind this is ramping up their efforts against the regime of President Duterte.

And the fact that they're doing it now shows that I think they believe that they need to send a message to the Filipino government. And, unfortunately, a lot of innocent civilians are going to be caught in the crossfire.

CABRERA: We're hearing this is an area where there are multiple hotels. There's a casino. There's a shopping center. So it's quite the complex. If you were a law enforcement responding to this scene, what's your approach?

LEIGHTON: Well, your basic approach is going to be one in which you have to secure the perimeter. And what you have to end up doing is you have to make sure that you contain any casualties, any damage that is there.

The other thing that you have to do is you have to make sure that the terrorists don't escape. If you can catch them, that then shortens your investigative time frame. It also makes it possible for you to really find out more about the terrorist attacks, you know, what their modus operandi is. And also who they're working for. That I think is going to be the key factor.

CABRERA: Let me bring in CNN terror analyst Peter Bergen joining us now.

Again, this is an unfolding situation, Peter. We don't know exactly what is happening. Just now, we know there have been explosions, there have been sounds of gunfire. People wearing masks reportedly on the second floor of this hotel complex.

But, again, it's the context that makes this even more alarming, given the terrorism and additional activity we've seen from groups like ISIS in parts of the Philippines.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. I mean, let's start with the modus operandi of this attack and think about some previous attacks. They look very similar.

This looks like -- to me look like a so called Fedayeen attack which Colonel Leighton was just saying -- you know, perhaps you want to try and capture these guys. I don't think that's going to be an option here.

These guys, if it is a Fedayeen attack are going in to die. No doubt about it. (OFF-MIKE)

About a decade ago, they went in, they took all the, you know, hotel guests hostage. They fought to the death. And it -- you know, it played out on cable TV for pretty much live for three days. This is an intent to make this last as long as possible.

We saw this also in Kenya with the Westgate Mall attack. Similarly, you know, a gunmen went in, took hostages, fought to the death and the whole thing lasted at least 48 hours. So that's the modus operandi.

Then the context that you mentioned, Anna, ISIS has called for attacks during Ramadan. Unfortunately, we've seen four very significant attacks in Iraq, one outside of an ice cream parlor killing mostly women and children. In Baghdad, we saw the massive attack just in the last 24 hours. In Kabul, killing more than 90. We've seen other attacks. And, unfortunately for groups that sort of if indeed this is an Islamist terrorist group, which seems plausible, you have both Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and then also ISIS.

You know, these groups see an attack on Ramadan as being particularly auspicious, even though 99.9 percent of the world's Muslims are in fact, you know, oppose to this kind of attack and (INAUDIBLE) during the holy month of Ramadan.

CABRERA: We're looking at images coming to us from the scene right now, where you see people looking to be in fear. We see people on the ground. We see people looking around. Again, we don't know exactly the status of everybody who was in this area. No reports of casualties. But also, we don't have all the information.

I want to get to Maria Ressa. She is the executive editor of Rappler near the scene.

I know, Maria, you've been hearing from witnesses there. What are they telling you?

MARIA RESSA, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, RAPPLER.COM: We heard gunshots. Some people are saying that they saw masked men, but then others said they haven't. Some people -- we have seen people walk out injured and are being treated by paramedics outside on the street, outside the -- they have ambulances and fire trucks.

Some folks coming out dazed. But right now it's about an hour and a half after it happened, and people are waiting for word. We have heard from the Philippine National Police, a spokesman from the police have asked the media to be careful about their coverage, to not compromise operations that are going on right now, and to be aware, raw information could be damaging as well.

It's unclear exactly what's happening. The smoke, though, is still there. And we're waiting to hear more.

CABRERA: You mentioned that people are being treated by ambulances. Any sense of the types of injuries, or why they're being treated?

RESSA: Unclear. What we've seen are people being brought outside. A woman who looked like she was limping, being held by two men who were helping her outside. And then out on the sidewalk, paramedics were just taking care of a person who couldn't walk.

We also saw photos of an overturned car after some of the explosions. But, again, it's unclear exactly what is happening now.

CABRERA: And in terms of law enforcement presence on the scene, we understand that there is a combination of police, S.W.A.T. teams. There's also these emergency responders like firefighters and ambulances that have responded. Set the scene a little bit for us in terms of what you can visibly see, and are you seeing a strategy in terms of law enforcement responding?

RESSA: What we know is that S.W.A.T. teams have gone into the building. Witnesses, they've asked people to evacuate. There are two hotel complexes right on either side. The people who have evacuated, some of them actually hid.

[14:10:10] One man who identified himself as Julio Silva told us that he was on the third floor of the building when he heard the gunshots. He hid in the bathroom. He said several more gunshots followed, thick smoke. And then before he fled, he fled and got outside along with his companions. They went to the second floor where security guided them out of the building.

So it's unclear exactly what operations are going on inside. But people outside are waiting to hear word about it.

CABRERA: All right. Maria, stay with us.

I want to go to Ivan Watson once again.

Ivan, you have some new information, reporting from the hotel.

What are they saying?

WATSON: That's right. The verified Twitter account of Resorts World Manila has tweeted that, quote, "Resorts World Manila is currently on lockdown following reports of gunfire from unidentified men. The company is working closely with the Philippine National Police to ensure that all guests and employees are safe. We ask for your prayers during these difficult times."

So we've got statements coming from the hotel's verified Twitter account, coming out on social media.

And a little bit of more context about this area. I've stayed in some of the hotels in this compound. There's a Marriott hotel there, for example, which where several years ago I actually saw them hosting a U.S. Marine Ball at that location. So that gives you a sense of kind of some of the foreign customers that would be coming to some of the hotels in that complex.

There's an adjoining shopping mall there. And though there are some security measures, you'll have, for example, dogs and guards that could be sniffing people coming in and out. And it is quite typical for there to be armed guards outside of hotels and shopping malls in Manila.

There are also links between the shopping mall complex there, and the Marriott hotel, and the other networks of hotels and casinos in that area. You can walk across the street between these various hotels and shopping areas. And this is all, again, very close to Manila's international airport.

There's also an Air Force presence in that broader area of Manila itself. And of course, reports are now verified now from the official account of Resorts World Manila of gunfire, and a hotel right now that's in lockdown, as this situation does still appear to be unfolding, Anna.

CABRERA: And we are hearing from those witnesses, those nearby, saying they're still seeing smoke rising from the scene, Ivan Watson.

Ivan Watson, excuse me, stay with us. We're going to take a quick break here as we continue to follow this breaking news right now happening in the Philippines, in Manila. Reports of gunfire, masked men, explosions in a resort complex near the airport. We're working to gather more information. Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN "Breaking News."

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back. We are following breaking news this hour, reports of gunfire and explosions at Resorts World Manila in the Philippines.

Police, fire trucks, S.W.A.T. teams are in the area according to CNN Philippines and according to witnesses that CNN has spoken to. The hotel is now on lockdown.

Let's go right away to CNN's Ivan Watson who is following this story from Singapore.

Ivan, tell us what's the latest that you are hearing so far?

WATSON: It does appear that this is very much an unfolding situation right now. So we have not gotten official word from the Philippines authorities. But from what eyewitnesses have been saying, people in the area, and our reporters from our sister network CNN Philippines, there had been some kind of shooting under way, reports of some kind of blasts from this hotel shopping casino complex by the international airport in Manila, Clarissa.

And that's been confirmed by the Twitter, the official verified Twitter account of the company itself, Resorts World Manila, which has tweeted, quote, "Resorts World Manila is currently on lockdown following reports of gunfire from unidentified men. The company is working closely with the Philippine National Police to ensure that all guests and employees are safe. We ask for your prayers during these difficult times."

And CNN Philippines has seen Philippines S.W.A.T. police, heavily armed with armor, moving to the scene. Fire trucks there as well. And then we've seen images of smoke rising from that resort complex, again, by Philippines -- the Manila International Airport.

So very much it sounds like an unfolding scene right now. No confirmations of any casualties right now. And no confirmations of any claims of responsibility for what does appear to be some kind of violent incident, some kind of violent attack taking place there in the Philippines capital.


WARD: OK, Ivan, I want you to stay with us because I want to get into some of the context for this in a moment.

But I do want to bring in now, Maria Ressa. She is joining us from Manila. She is the executive editor for the Philippine online news site, Rappler. Maria, tell us where you are, what you're seeing and what you're learning about the situation.

RESSA: I'm about 15 minutes away from the Resorts World Manila complex and our team is right on the scene. And we've now spoken -- this is an interesting story from a man who works at Resorts World, his name is Robert Paleo (ph).

He said he saw an armed man wearing a mask and carrying what he called a Baby Armalite. He said that he helped -- he then helped other people to get out of the building.

We're seeing people injured, being helped by other people. But it's unclear exactly what is going on inside.

Another reporter on the scene described people jumping out of windows to escape. A spokeswoman for the Philippine National Police actually spoke with one of our reporters, and she requested that media not air any videos from outside the hotel, saying that this could compromise operations being conducted in the area.

WARD: So, Maria, do you have any sense at all as to whether there have been any casualties, whether anyone has been injured? Or if there's some type of a hostage situation ongoing?

RESSA: Again, it's unclear about -- what we see are -- there is an ambulance outside. There are people being treated on the sidewalk by paramedics. Depending on which part of the building you're in, there are five trucks that are -- you know, you see the flashing lights and the smoke is still coming out of the building.

Police are inside. The S.W.A.T. teams are there. You're seeing now photos of people being carried out. Some parts near the hotels, people are just waiting. They're wearing their robes. It is 2:20 in the morning here in manila. And this began roughly nearly two hours ago.

WARD: So it's been going on for two hours.

Give us a sense more about this complex, the Resorts World Manila. What is this complex exactly?

RESSA: It's a relatively new -- it's an upscale casino/hotel complex, high-end shopping, luxury shops in that place. This is open 24 hours. So you have both businessmen and tourists staying.

There's one -- two different types of hotels that are there. Again, it's -- this is about 10 to 15 minutes away from the airport and a major thoroughfare.

We're still waiting to hear word from the authorities, but I think what makes people in Manila nervous is the fact that this -- the backdrop of this is again -- this is day ten of martial law that has been declared in Mindanao, the southern island that -- you see it on the map, the southern -- that large tip there, Marawi City. Still parts of Marawi City are being held by home-grown groups affiliated with ISIS. And President Duterte, Philippine President Duterte, when he declared martial law, said that he would -- his intelligence said that he would expand martial law, depending on -- to try to prevent ISIS from moving closer outside of Mindanao.

WARD: OK, Maria, stay with us, again, because I do want to come back and keep talking to you in a moment.

But we do have on the phone now Ticos Lao (ph). He was actually a witness to the attack.

Ticos (ph), can you hear me?


WARD: Hi, Ticos (ph). Tell me -- tell us what you have seen.

LAO: Well, basically, we are at the moment in Resort World Manila. It's the casino with hotel. I was actually in the hotel at about midnight when there was an evacuation alert.

So when I went down, I could see that there were a lot of casualties being brought into the hotel. And when I went outside to see what was going on, I could smell some kind of smoke that came from an explosive device. So obviously bombs were -- had been used. And there were also an attack in the casino. And the actual details of that would be on the second floor of the casino, close to where the poker room is.

WARD: Did you --

LAO: At this point in time, I cannot see any casualties. A lot of the injured were carried into the hotel. Some of my friends who were playing in the poker room, they had to jump off the building from the back. So some of them had a broken leg and dislocated shoulder.

So at this point in time, how many deaths, I can't tell, but there a lot of ambulances around. I'm not quite sure how secure the place is at the moment, because I'm away from it now. And behind the hotel --


WARD: Ticos (ph), did you hear any blasts or any gunfire, and did you sense any panic as the situation was unfolding?

[14:25:00] LAO: Well, I kind of couldn't hear the blast, but apparently my friends were there in the casino. They could hear some kind of explosion and they could hear gunfire. But they can't see anything, because the whole place was filled with smoke.

WARD: And what was the reaction you were seeing of people who were injured? Was there a sense of panic, of fear?

LAO: It was not -- it was a bit -- it was quite controlled, actually. I was quite surprised. But there were a lot of fear, with a lot of people here. I'm from Malaysia, so basically I'm a foreigner here, but I'm just here for about two or three days, but I could see a lot of the local people a great sense of fear.

WARD: So just give me a sense of what the scene was like at midnight. How crowded was this casino? How many people were there roughly when the attack began.

LAO: I would put it at maybe a few hundred. I wasn't in the casino at that point in time, I was in the hotel. But it seems a bit controlled now. You have ambulances standing by. I don't hear any kind of conflict going on. So I'm not sure if it's safe enough to go back into the hotel. So we'll just wait and see right now.

WARD: And what are authorities telling you?

LAO: I haven't spoken to any guards, because I was concerned that the -- potentially (INAUDIBLE). So I'm actually near the main road, near the highway at the moment with the international airport. But it seems a bit more calm now. I haven't gone back into the lobby, but I think most of the casualties have been carried out by the ambulances by now.

WARD: Is there a large police presence? Are there cordons where the police are pushing people back?

LAO: I cannot see that at this point in time. Maybe I'm a bit far away. Like where the casino is, there would be police presence and by the security.

WARD: So for our viewers who are just joining us, Tico (ph), if you wouldn't mind, can you set the scene again for us as to what happened. Where you were when this attack took place and what you saw?

LAO: OK. Well, just to repeat, I was in the Hotel Remington. Basically, it's inside Resorts World. The casino is inside the Resorts World. At about midnight, there was an evacuation alert, telling everyone to vacate the building.

So when I came down in the hotel, I saw a lot of people in the hotel. I can see foreigners injured. That's where I took the photos. Apart from that, I just wanted to make sure that (INAUDIBLE)

I went to the front where the noise was. And I could smell that there was an explosion. Because it's an explosive device kind of smell, that was detonated. Speaking to friends, there were quite a few friends of mine that were injured, and they were telling me while they were inside the casino, there were masked men that opened fire. And the whole casino was smoked out and the explosion going off.


WARD: Go ahead.

LAO: Actually what's happening in the casino right now, I don't really know, whether there are casualties -- I mean, mortalities, I have no idea.

WARD: Well, we're all very glad that you're safe. If you don't mind staying on the line with us, we'd be very grateful, because we want to keep talking to you.

I want to go briefly now back to our Ivan Watson, who's following the story from Singapore.

Ivan, obviously you spent an enormous amount of time in the Philippines. I mean, just give us a sense of the context here. Where might be this -- where might this be coming from?

WATSON: Well, first, a little bit of geographical context. This Resorts World complex is the size of several city blocks. It's basically an entertainment development that is essentially across the street -- across a highway from the international airport.

There are at least four hotels there. I've stayed in two of them. A Marriott Hotel, a Remington Hotel and some of them are adjoining or across the city street, for example from a shopping mall, from a casino.


There's a cinema. And as I've stayed there in the past, there are -- they tend to -- and I do remember there being security guards in front of these various hotels, armed. I do seem to remember dogs as well at some of the locations there. And this is one of the many, many shopping malls around Manila, the sprawling city that Filipinos are going to.

The reports are that whatever was taking place there, these reports of gunfire, what we've just heard from an eyewitness there, smoke filling halls there, taking place around midnight, after midnight local time -- and it's now after 2:00 am local time there in the Philippines.

Now some broader context about the security climate right now. In the course of the last two weeks, you've seen an incredible power play on the part of Islamist militants on the southern island of Mindanao, who have waved the black banner of ISIS as they took control of virtually an entire town there called Marawi.

And that prompted the Philippines president to cut short a visit, a state visit to Russia, to rush back from Moscow to Manila. He declared martial law on that southern island.

There have been reports of more than 100 people killed in fighting between Philippine security forces and Islamist militants around that town of Marawi, reports of Philippine airstrikes being carried out and tens of thousands of people who have fled the fighting there.

So that has been a dramatic, dramatic increase of Islamist ISIS- related violence taking place, Clarissa, on the southern island of Mindanao. We don't know if there are any (INAUDIBLE) there are no claims of responsibility yet to what the scene is that's unfolding in the Philippines capital right now.

But that gives you a bit of context as the Philippine security forces have locked down the area around this complex of hotels, casino, shopping mall as well by Philippines, by the Manila International Airport -- Clarissa.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ivan, how much of a priority has President Duterte made this fight against ISIS and other extremist militants?

WATSON: Well, certainly in his first months in office, he said that the number one threat in the country came from drug use and drug dealers. He declared what has been a very violent and deadly campaign against what he says is a threat to the country.

But I think he was very much taken by surprise, caught by surprise during what was supposed to be a three-, four-day trip just last week to Russia, to the Russian capital and to St. Petersburg as well, by this assault, essentially, by these ISIS-affiliated militants on the southern island of Mindanao; again, around that city of Marawi.

According to Philippine government, what they managed to do was to set fire to the city jail, for example, to a church in Marawi and to actually take control of large parts of that city, until reinforcements were sent in from the Philippine security forces.

And it's still not settled there. So that has become an enormous crisis for Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, such that he had to declare martial law on that southern island and publicly mulled about the possibility of spreading martial law to the rest of the archipelago nation as well.

So that gives you a sense of just how dramatic that challenge has been and the extreme measures that the Philippines president has considered to have to deal with that.

We do not know who is behind the current violence at the Resorts World Manila complex in the capital. But this is certainly -- it certainly bears the hallmarks at these early stages to lead people to suspect there could be terrorist motives behind this violence that triggered such panic as we heard from an eyewitness where people broke limbs apparently trying to leap out of the hotel complex -- Clarissa.

WARD: It certainly has all the hallmarks. Thank you, Ivan. Don't go far away. We're getting more news in.

CNN has learned that the airport terminal near the hotel is now on heightened alert. This is Ninoy Aquino International Airport, terminal 3 is currently on heightened alert because of the attack on the nearby Resorts World Manila.


WARD: And that's coming from someone with airport operations, who said to CNN that they received the report about the incident from airport police. Flights are still taking off but the airport is just a mile away from this resort.

I believe we still have Maria Ressa on the phone with us.

Maria, what are you hearing from your sources on the scene? Are we learning anything more now about who might be responsible for this or whether anyone may have been injured or, God forbid, killed in this attack?

MARIA RESSA, PHOTOGRAPHER: What we know is that our reporter on the ground actually has just spoken with one of the managers of the Resorts World complex. He said the incident, the shooting began around 11:30 in the evening. It's about 2:30 in the morning here now, so about three hours ago.

He said they immediately called the police. And the police came, SWAT teams came in. The complex is in lockdown. And he said that they would let -- they would hold some kind of briefing in about two hours' time from now.

WARD: In two hours' time from now?


WARD: So does that indicate that the operation is over?

I mean, that seems -- it's going to be a long two hours for a lot of people tonight.

RESSA: What it seems, again from outside, is that they're trying to make sure that the people who are inside, that they can have clear operations. They've asked media outside to not take any video, to not compromise this.

Outside, a lot of the people who have been standing have gone away. And we still see ambulances and fire trucks on the scene, some injured people coming out. But it's significantly quieter.

And what we're hearing now from the manager, from one of the managers, is that they will let us know more details about what exactly is going on inside the complex in about two hours' time.

WARD: And what are these injured people saying, as they're being shepherded into ambulances?

I mean, surely, we must be getting something of a sense of what unfolded inside.

RESSA: It's very different. Everyone seems to have a slightly different story. One person said that they saw an armed man carrying a baby ArmaLite. Another person jumped out of a -- tried to jump out of a third-floor building.

A woman was limping and being held by two men, who were trying to help her get out. And, again, what was interesting is, our reporter had put a spokeswoman for the Philippine national police on Facebook Live. And she was very cautious. She had even asked that we stop taking video until the operations are over.

WARD: OK. Maria Ressa, don't go far away, please.

Joining us now on the phone from the scene of the attack in Manila is CNN Philippines reporter Camille Abadicio.

Camille, tell us what you are seeing.

Do you have any sense of what the situation is there?

CAMILLE ABADICIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still no word from the police officials. But the situation has calmed down now, though we have seen more fire trucks rushing to the area. A police line is set up and we're kept here at the perimeter.

It's been an hour since we've heard a series of gunfire and what seems to explosions coming from inside the building, the Resorts World Manila.

The initial information we got from witnesses that we talked to is that there was a shooting incident on the second floor of the resort and casino, past midnight. Employees and guests just suddenly rushed out and jumped out of the building.

Some of them said they saw a gunman wearing a mask that opened fire. A security guard also said there could be -- there's possibly more than one attacker. As I said, the regional police have yet to give us any information. But, earlier, the spokesperson said that she will talk to us as soon as they are sure that the police and the people inside are safe.

We've also talked to a couple of witnesses. There was a man who came running from the building and he told us that he was on the third floor when this happened. There was a lot of smoke. He had to hide in the bathroom. He also heard the gunshots fired.

And a worker also from the area saw people trapped on the second floor. They tried to break the window and he helped them go out of the building. He also claims that he saw the attacker face to face. He was wearing a mask. He was wearing black, wearing a mask and he was actually calm, he said. And he was carrying a long rifle.


ABADICIO: But when he saw that the police were waiting outside, the attacker went back inside the building. And that according to the witness that we talked to. And we also see some people from an ambulance going closer to the building.

We got word from the security guards that there's a lot of injured people. But we have yet to know how many and what injuries they have right now -- back to you.

WARD: Tell me, Camille, have you, with your own eyes, how many have you seen?

And how many police?

Give us a sense of the police presence here.

Is this a massive police presence? Is it a moderate one?

ABADICIO: As I said, the situation has calmed down now. But, earlier, especially when we just arrived, we heard explosions and there was like two to three SWAT teams here heavily armed with their bulletproof vests and their rifles.

They went inside the building. But right now, we haven't seen them again. But here at the perimeter, we are with some policemen and some security personnel from the building, from Resorts World Manila.

WARD: And the witnesses that you have spoken to, did they report -- did the attacker -- was there more than one attacker, did they say?

Did he or they say anything during the course of the attack?

Does anyone have any sense of what possible motivation there could be behind this?

ABADICIO: It's still unclear right now, because one witness said that there was one attacker and the security guard we talked to said there's possibly more than one. But that's still unclear. We have yet to confirm those.

But, definitely, the tension here is still high. We're still awaiting -- the security guards are telling us there are still a lot of people inside, so we're still waiting for more updates on that -- back to you.

WARD: And so, just to clarify, Camille, forgive me, but when you're speaking to the authorities on the ground and the security forces on the ground, do they appear to be indicating that the operation is now over?

Or is this an ongoing police operation to try to take out this attacker or possibly attackers?

ABADICIO: We have not yet talked to the police officials, actually. But we just talked to some of the security personnel here outside. But they are really mum about it. They're not telling us if it's over.

But as I said, the situation seems to have calmed down, compared to what we'd seen earlier. And there are just more ambulance and fire trucks coming in. And we're going to keep you posted on the developments here on the ground.

WARD: All right, Camille, thank you very much for joining us. And don't go far away.

We have another eyewitness who joins us now on the phone from Manila, Jay Dones (ph).

Jay, tell us what you have seen and experienced.

JAY DONES (PH), EYEWITNESS: Yes, good morning, Clarissa. A little past 12:00 am midnight here in Manila, a series of shots rang out at the casino area of Resorts World here in Manila, in (INAUDIBLE).

Because of this, employees and gamers of the casino started running out of the casino, while the gunman began to shoot several times. Probably most of the employees say that the shots were directed in the air.

But many -- some of the employees who started escaping from the area got injured in the process.

I've spoken with some of the employees earlier and many of them say they saw at least two suspects, armed with long firearms, wearing all black and black bonnets and began shooting a little past 12:00 midnight, in the morning.

And one of them was carrying a bottle. One of the employees told me that the suspect began pouring something from the bottle on one of the tables and lit it on fire. This --


WARD: These new pictures.

DONES: -- firefighters think is what's causing the fire right now here in Resorts World. Unfortunately, the firefighters are unable to enter the premises as of yet, because, according to the police personnel here, the situation is still active. Many reports are coming in that the suspects are still inside.

And right now, I'm seeing additional police personnel, specialized units of the --


DONES: -- Philippine national police, arriving here in the area, presumably to begin the operation to clear the Resorts World hotel -- and also the casino and the mall -- of the suspects.

They are assuming that the suspects are still inside because, as of yet, the information is that they have not left, they haven't left the premises as of the moment.

WARD: And, Jay, while you've been talking, we've been showing our viewers some new footage that is coming in. And you can see just scenes of chaos, people screaming, pandemonium really, as people try to escape the hail of bullets that they're hearing. It really looks like a deeply frightening scene.

Give me a sense of where you were, when, as you said, those shots first rang out.

Where were you exactly?

DONES: I just arrived on scene a few minutes after the shots rang out. Although I did not see exactly the injured people that were being evacuated from the area, what I saw was most of the employees were leaving from different exits of this complex. This Resorts World complex is composed of the hotel, the casino and

the mall. And most of the employees here and also the mallgoers and the gamers I saw were leaving or escaping the area and trying to avoid the commotion that is happening right now.

But as of the moment, everything has calmed down. But this in contrast to what was happening, what happened before, a few hours earlier. But I'm still seeing the thick smoke coming out of the complex and firefighters having a hard time -- or looking at the fire because they are unable to get inside, because of the orders of the Philippine national police, is that no one is allowed to go inside as of yet because of the situation still active (INAUDIBLE).

WARD: Jay, stay with me. I just want to share with our viewers a statement that's just coming in from Resorts World.

It reads, quote, "We are still investigating the situation. The PNP, the Filipino police, is on site. We have evacuated the building to make sure our patrons and staff are safe. At this time, that's is all the information I can give you. The building is currently on lockdown state until we completely clear the area."

They say that they will update us as soon as they have more information in about two hours and that they are searching the area as much as they can to make sure the building is clear.

Ivan Watson is following this story from Singapore.

Ivan, I don't know if you heard Jay Dones there, who arrived on the scene just moments after the attack, whether you've been seeing these images, these Facebook videos, that have been coming in, showing just absolute panic and chaos in the moments after the attack began.

What more are you learning and hearing in terms of casualties, in terms of possible motivation or claim of responsibility?

WATSON: We're still not getting any claims of responsibility or any confirmations of reports of casualties with the exception that we know that the emergency services are there, the Philippines Red Cross has at least four ambulances, for example, according to its verified account on the scene there.

We know that the U.S. president, Donald Trump, there's a statement coming out, saying that he is aware of the situation. This according to a tweet from the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, that the president of the U.S. is, quote, "aware of the situation in Manila and being provided updates by his national security team."

Of course, the U.S. historically a very close ally of the Philippines, very close military-to-military cooperation as well as well as political cooperation, though that has gone through a rough patch over the course of the last year with the election of the Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte, who has talked about wanting to expand Philippines foreign policy, to embrace other countries like Russia, China as well. But, of course, we have a serious security situation that has happened

by the Philippines, by Manila's International Airport, at a hotel and shopping and casino compound.

And just, again, to remind our listeners, this is an area of several city blocks, with at least four different hotels. Believe it or not, I've stayed in two of them in the past. There's a shopping mall that's adjoining to that casino as well.

And this incident taking place as it approached midnight in the Philippines capital. The images we're seeing of frightened patrons fleeing the area. We've had eyewitness reports of people in --


WATSON: -- essentially their bathrobes, standing around outside this compound. And then we've seen images coming out on social media of Philippines security forces armed, heading into the lobby of one of the buildings in this compound.

So you can just imagine the confusion as whatever this incident unfolded with reports of at least one gunman operating in the area there and reports of casualties, people wounded, some of them in their flight, in their panic to escape, with one eyewitness that we've heard, that you spoke with yourself, describing some of his friends, acquaintances leaping several stories up and injuring themselves in their fall to try to escape this situation.

And, again, the broader context here, we don't know who's behind this incident yet, Clarissa, but we do know that it's taking place barely a week after an incredible power play, an assault by Islamist militants on the southern island of Mindanao, when they actually managed to take control of the downtown of an entire town, Marawi, forcing, in the ensuing days of fighting against Philippines security forces, tens of thousands of people to flee that area.

The Philippine security forces, military, using airstrikes against them and the president declaring martial law on that southern island and publicly musing about the possibility of imposing martial law across the rest of the archipelago nation.

So that is a security background and context to the frightening situation that we saw unfold here at the Resorts World Manila complex in the heart of the Philippines capital -- Clarissa.

WARD: OK, Ivan, thank you for that context.

And to get more on that, we're joined on the phone now by CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruikshank.

Paul, you know, you've studied this a lot. But give us a sense of the state of play in the Philippines with regard to ISIS. You heard Ivan there talking about the events of the past few weeks; the problems in Mindanao, which have been going on for quite some time. Not just ISIS, Abu Sayyaf, other groups. But bring us up to speed a little bit. PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: Yes, Clarissa, the backdrop here is an elevated terrorist threat right across Southeast Asia. We've seen a number of attacks which have been enabled by ISIS from Syria,, reaching out over the international operatives and sympathizers across the region.

We've seen up to 900 extremists travel from Southeast Asia to join jihadi groups in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. And this worry now that some of those may be coming back. So the threat context across the region is really elevated right now.

Of course, when it comes to the Philippines, we've seen a surge in jihadi activity, as you mentioned, all the way to the south of the Philippines, in the Muslim majority island of Mindanao, which is about 700 miles or so south of Manila.

And last month, we saw a number of ISIS-aligned jihadis take control of a town there, the town of Malawi, for a number of days before security forces pushed them out.

And you've got a collection of different local groups there, who have taken on this ISIS branding. One of those local groups is Abu Sayyaf, a notorious jihadi group, which has been in existence for quite some time and has made millions of dollars from the hostage taking, ransoms and have carried out some brutal beheadings on Westerners in recent years.

There's also another group called Maute, which is an ISIS-aligned group, which has also been part of that violent attempt to take over that town in the Southern Philippines.

There are probably about several hundred of these fighters. There are not thousands of them, so one has to put this right into some sort of relative context. The main jihadi group in that area of the Southern Philippines, the more Islamic fighting group, is actually engaged in a peace process with the government in Manila right now.

And so one of the hypotheses could be is this is a sort of violent spin-off group that is opposed to that peace process, trying to scuttle it essentially.

One of the reasons why jihadis could be attacking is to provoke the president, this new president, Rodrigo Duterte, into even more hardline approach against the jihadis in the hope to recreate a more mass supported jihadi insurgency in the Southern Philippines.


CRUICKSHANK: Not clear at the moment what kind of group would be responsible for this. Attacks have been relatively rare in Manila, in the surrounding areas, in recent years. Most of the violence has been hundreds of miles to the south.

WARD: Yes; as you say, Paul, this is certainly an uptick, to have it in the beating heart of the Filipino capital of Manila. Don't go far. We'll come back to you. Thank you for that insight. I want to talk again now to eyewitness Jay Dones, who joins us on the

phone from Manila. He's just outside the scene where all of this has been unfolding.

And, Jay, just moments ago, we heard from the photographer, Maria Ressa, who we have been talking to, that some hotel guests are still trapped on the fifth floor of the hotel. I don't know what you can see from where you are but give us a sense of what you're seeing and hearing on the ground.

DONES: That's a (INAUDIBLE) probability because, according to the employees which I've spoken to moments ago, this place is a very big complex, which has many rooms and has many guests at the moment. So it's really possible that some of the guests are still staying in their rooms.

Even some of these employees are still possibly inside this complex as well as some of the gamers.

What I'm seeing right now is the smoke, which I have been seeing for the past hour, has gotten noticeably thicker. But, unfortunately, most of the firefighters are still unable to enter the compound. I see them looking up, looking at the smoke that's billowing out of this complex and seemingly unable to assist to -- in putting out the fire because as of the moment, they're not being allowed by the authorities to enter the compound, also by the security personnel here in Resorts World.

Just a few moments ago, I saw a group of the specialized units of the Philippine national police, the special action (ph) force, arriving in the area. And about 30 minutes ago or so, I saw the NCRPO (ph) chief or the National Capital Regional Police Officers (ph) chief (INAUDIBLE) leaving the scene and planning out their next step after this incident, which started around midnight Manila time here in (INAUDIBLE).

WARD: And, Jay, just so I understand you correctly, you're saying that essentially there is still a fire blazing away but that firefighters are unable to go into the hotel and attempt to get rid of the fire or take the fire out, because it's still an ongoing police operation, is that correct?

Is that what you're seeing?

DONES: Yes, that is correct. I'm seeing a much thicker gray (ph) smoke coming out of the top of this building, the Resorts World building complex. And about more than a dozen firefighters waiting it out here, outside the complex and just looking at it, the scene, and not being able to enter the premises to put out the fire, that is correct.

WARD: And where is the fire roughly within the building?

Is it on the second floor where the casino is, the site of the attack?

DONES: Well, according to an employee, which I spoke earlier, he saw one of the armed suspects wearing all black and a bonnet, bring up or pour out something, some sort of liquid, on one of the tables, gaming tables, at the second floor of the casino area. And then he lit it on fire. He is assuming that it's something, some sort of gasoline or diesel, which he, the suspect, lit up. And this is probably what's causing the fire in this area, in this building.

WARD: So essentially one witness telling you that he believes he saw the attacker or one of the attackers deliberately setting fire, using lighter fluid or something to that effect, to deliberately set fire to the scene?

DONES: Yes. Yes, that is correct. He saw one of the armed suspects take out a bottle. He said it was a sort of a bottle of a brand of a mineral water, which one of the suspects poured out on the casino table and then lit it on fire.

WARD: And what sort of injuries are you seeing, the people who have made it out safely?

What are you seeing?

Is it smoke inhalation?

Injuries that are typical of a fire?

Or bullet wounds?

What kind of are injuries have you seen?

[15:00:00] DONES: A rescue personnel I spoke with earlier told me that, although they are unable to -- they cannot give exact numbers on the casualties or the injuries at the moment. But many of the injuries they responded to were smoke inhalation and minor injuries to the people trying to take this -- the building in a hurry.

Most of the injuries were minor injuries. They told me that they have not yet reported -- they have not yet treated anyone with a gunshot wound. Most of the victims or the injuries that they responded to were victims of smoke inhalation and some bruises and cuts due to the stampede right after the series of gunshots that they heard inside the casino area.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. Jay, stay with me, because I want to alert our viewers to the fact that we are watching also another story unfolding in Washington, D.C., the Rose Garden at the White House, where President Trump is expected to speak shortly any moment now about whether or not the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate accord.

We are keeping a close eye on that for you. The minute that we see the president come up to the podium, we will bring you that news.

But just going back to you for a second, Jay, if you don't mind, do you have any sense that the firefighters are feeling frustrated or impatient, waiting to be able to get in and tackle the blaze? DONES: Right now, I have no information on that, Clarissa, but what the chief of the metropolitan police have told us, the journalists that are coverage the area, is that the situation is still (INAUDIBLE) and they have not yet heard any information if the assailants or the suspects have exited the area, this complex, the casino and mall and hotel building -- Clarissa.

WARD: Jay Dones, thank you so much.

We are going to go now to our Ivan Watson, who is still following this story very closely with us from Singapore.

Ivan, you heard Jay Dones there, talking about the possibility or one witness claiming that he saw the attacker pour some kind of fluid out and set fire to it. You know, if so, arson; this is kind of a new form of terrorist attack potentially, if this is indeed a terrorist attack -- and we should stress that, at this stage, we have very little information about who is responsible for this and why.

But, Ivan, just curious to get your thoughts in terms of what you are hearing.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, just imagine what kind of -- what a fire and what kind of impact that would have on a hotel full of guests in the middle of the night and what kind of panic that can create and chaos, which would explain some of the images that we have seen coming out on social media, of people in the middle of the night, fleeing from this location, from this network of hotels, some of them, according to eyewitnesses, in their bathrobes.

And I think it's far too early -- I think it's far -- I will toss it back to you, Clarissa.

WARD: Sorry to interrupt you there, Ivan; there was some wires crossed there. I just want to bring our viewers up to speed, also, with what we are seeing, live pictures from the Rose Garden.

We are now going to join our domestic coverage to bring you more news of President Trump's imminent speech about whether or not the U.S. will join the Paris climate accord.

And you will be joining our Jake Tapper.

Jake, over to you.

(Begin CNN Domestic simulcast)