Hijacker 'went berserk' in final moments of Manila bus siege

Ex-policeman who took Hong Kong tourists hostage fired dozens of bullets to try to keep commandos at bay.

MANILA // The hijacker of a bus in the Philippines fired dozens of bullets from an assault rifle and two pistols while using his captives as shields during the siege's final moments, police said today. Ex-policemen Rolando Mendoza herded his terrified hostages to the rear of the bus while keeping commandos at bay with gunfire, according to results of a police inquiry into Monday's siege in which eight Hong Kong tourists died.

The chaotic standoff finally ended when police shot him eight times. Police spokesman senior superintendent Agrimero Cruz told reporters as he released preliminary results of the inquiry: "Mendoza suffered eight gunshot wounds, [including] two on the neck and one on the head that were fatal," The highly agitated Mendoza managed to slow the commandos' assault with his tactics for about an hour, but an officer involved in the inquiry said the hijacker panicked when tear gas was finally fired into the vehicle.

He ran towards the front of the bus to escape the tear gas, giving snipers a clear shot, the officer said. Superintendent Cruz said forensics science experts recovered 59 empty shells believed to be from Mendoza's M-16 rifle, as well as 31 from two other small firearms he was carrying. Autopsies on five of the eight Hong Kong tourists who perished indicated they died immediately from their gunshot wounds, superintendent Cruz said.

"Most of the gunshot wounds were in the back and neck," superintendent Cruz said, adding that families of the three other victims opted to have the autopsies carried out in Hong Kong. However, superintendent Cruz said it was too early to determine whether the victims were killed by bullets fired from Mendoza's firearms, or from those that came outside. He did not say when the final results of the police inquiry would be released.

The police probe is separate to an investigation ordered by president Benigno Aquino, which will be conducted by the justice department and other government bodies. Twenty-two Hong Kong tourists and three Filipinos were aboard the bus when Mendoza, dressed in combat fatigues and also carrying a long knife, seized it in a desperate bid to clear himself from extortion charges. Mendoza released some of the hostages during the 12-hour ordeal. But he later claimed on live radio that he had shot some of the others, forcing the police to launch their assault, which aired live on television and was riddled, experts say, with blunders.

Superintendent Cruz said the inquiry was meant to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the bloody end to the crisis, amid stinging criticism over police ineptitude. * AFP