Cops think gunman killed tourists

2010-08-27 09:40

Manila - Philippine police said the hijacker of a busload of Hong Kong tourists likely shot dead all eight victims, and that the rescue team did not hit any of the captives in the chaotic end to the standoff.

Police announced the preliminary results of their findings amid growing pressure from furious authorities in Hong Kong and China for the Philippine government to quickly give a full account of Monday's 12-hour ordeal.

"We can say that with a certain degree of certainty," national police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz told reporters on Thursday when asked if the bullets that killed the tourists came from the hijacker's weapons.

Cruz said the initial finding was based on witness accounts and testimony from the police involved in storming the bus, as well as the bullets found on the vehicle.

More evidence needed

However he said the police investigation was still ongoing and that final conclusions had not yet been made.

"We need further evidence from the trajectory exam and the ballistics exam," the senior officer said.

"The crime lab is having a hard time comparing the specimen recovered from the bodies because there are mere metal splinters, but we are doing everything we can and in due time we can release the result of these ballistics exams."

Ex-policeman Rolando Mendoza took the busload of Hong Kong tourists hostage in Manila in a desperate bid to have himself cleared of extortion charges and get his job back.

After a long stand-off, a police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team attempted to storm the bus but its members were held at bay by Mendoza who police said used the hostages as human shields.

The Philippine government has admitted many mistakes were made in handling the hostage crisis, which was aired live around the world on television.

Hong Kong protest

There has been a strong backlash from people in Hong Kong and China, and any evidence showing police bullets had hit the tourists would inflame the situation.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to join a rally in Hong Kong on Sunday to demand justice for the hijack victims, organisers said.

The Philippines had also planned to send a delegation to Beijing and Hong Kong for a fence-mending visit, but the Chinese government said it wanted an explanation for the police actions before allowing any diplomatic courtesies.

"We think the most urgent task is to get as clear an investigation result of the incident as soon as possible," foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said when asked about the proposed visit.

The Philippine foreign ministry then announced it would not send its delegation - led by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and Vice-President Jejomar Binay - until its investigation had been completed.

Amid the cascading fallout to Monday's events, the Philippine military said one if its elite units, with better training, was offered to the police to help end the standoff but it was never used.

Elite unit on standby

"At the start of the hostage situation, we immediately contacted our police counterparts and we offered services coming from our special and elite unit," military spokesperson Brigadier General Jose Mabanta said.

"However, we were told that we just have to be on standby alert so apparently as we all know, it was never used."

Mabanta said the military's Light Reaction Company had been trained by US Special Forces to handle different kinds of crises, including hijackings and hostage situations.

The police SWAT team that eventually went in appeared to be woefully ill-prepared, and President Benigno Aquino admitted the personnel had not received adequate training or equipment.

The SWAT officers took about an hour to get into the bus after initially trying to smash its windows with sledge hammers.