The gunman who stormed the Resorts World Manila casino in the Philippine capital and torched gambling tables in the crowded space, created a deadly cloud of smoke that killed at least 36 people, local authorities have said.

The bodies were found in the smoky gambling room by firefighters early on Friday (2 June). All had died from suffocation and smoke inhalation, Metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said. None of the bodies had gunshot wounds.

During the assault, the gunman opened fire inside the complex, torched casino tables and also ransacked the casino's chip storage. Hundreds fled the scene of the attack, and at least 70 people are reported injured while trying to escape the complex.

The unidentified attacker then forced his way into a room in an adjoining hotel and killed himself by setting himself on fire.

The national police chief Ronald dela Rosa said the gunman apparently barged into a room at the 5th floor of the Maxims hotel connected to the mall and casino, laid on the bed, blanketed himself, doused himself with gasoline then set himself on fire. The bag of gambling chips worth 113 million pesos ($226,000) was found in a toilet.

Police have said the attacker was alone, but witnesses have told local media that there could have been other accomplices. Police also said there is no evidence pointing to the attack being an act of terrorism although Isis has claimed responsibility. Dela Rosa blamed "lapses in security" for the attack.

Eyewitness Jeff Santos told ABS-CBN news that he was in the casino when he suddenly heard gunshots. He was playing on the third floor and the commotion was underway in the second floor, but he also heard shots fired from other directions. Santos added that the attacker had planned the rampage well, trapping people inside the building.

An injured witness, who declined to be identified, also told the outlet that shots were being fired from different directions. The witness was reportedly among the people on the ninth floor who were forced to escape through the fire exit, but was injured in the process.

However, Albayalde maintained that their forces only spotted one gunman, but he used diversionary tactics to create panic. He added that the man shot at the big TV screens at the casino and also set some gaming tables on fire.

Police have released CCTV images of the attacker. The attacker first parked his vehicles at the regular parking area on the side of the hotel and then walked into the complex casually, carrying a concealed gun.

The suspect was English-speaking but had no identification cards. Dela Rosa described him as "white, with a mustache" and about 6 feet tall. He said the man's car at the parking lot was being examined.

As news of the attack had spread, President Donald Trump offered the thoughts and prayers of the American people to the Philippines.

"It is really very sad as to what's going on throughout the world with terror," he said from the White House Rose Garden. Trump said he was "closely monitoring the situation" and would continue to provide updates.

The SITE monitoring service, which tracks white supremacist and jihadist activity online, said an Islamic State-linked Filipino operative who provides daily updates on the ongoing clashes in Marawi claimed "lone wolf soldiers" of the Islamic State group were responsible for the attack.

An English message by the operative was distributed across several pro-IS Telegram chat groups, SITE said. According to SITE, the message says the attacker intended to burn the casino because the activities inside were haram, or forbidden by Islam.

The unrest in Marawi had sparked fears that militants might attack elsewhere to divert the focus of the thousands of troops trying to quell the siege. But dela Rosa said "We cannot attribute this to terrorism without concrete evidence."

Manila casino attack
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 on 2 June, 2017 Reuters