Gunman dead after 10-hour drama

2010-08-23 15:43
Manila - Philippine police stormed a bus on Monday on which a sacked former police officer was holding 15 Hong Kong tourists and local media reported the hostage-taker had been killed.

Police could be seen removing a body from the front of the bus before entering the vehicle. At least four hostages left the bus alive, but TV images also showed more bodies being removed.

The end of the day-long stand-off came more than an hour after police commandos had moved in to surround the bus following a series of shots heard by a Reuters reporter at the scene. The driver of the bus was seen running to safety after the gunshots.

A police spokesperson said commandos had earlier shot out the tyres of the bus to immobilise the vehicle.

The gunman, identified as 55-year-old Rolando Mendoza who was armed with an M-16 assault rifle, had stopped the bus, which initially had 25 people on board, across a wide road in Manila's biggest park on Monday morning.

'They will kill me'

Mendoza had threatened to kill the hostages in a live telephone interview with a local radio station.

"I can see there are many SWAT teams arriving, they are all around," Mendoza, speaking in Tagalog, had said. "I know they will kill me, I'm telling them to leave because anytime I will do the same here."

Earlier, via a handwritten note stuck to the bus door, Mendoza said a "big deal" would happen after 15:00, but the deadline passed without incident.

Six Hong Kong nationals and two Filipinos, mainly women and children, had been released before the deadline and a ninth, another Filipino, was freed after it had passed.

Mendoza had earlier asked for food for those remaining on the bus, which was delivered, and fuel to keep the air-conditioning going during the heat.

Mendoza's brother, Gregorio, told a local TV station that his brother was upset by his dismissal from the force. Local media said he had been sacked for reasons including extortion, and due to his sacking he had lost his retirement benefits.

"His problem was he was unjustly removed from service. There was no due process, no hearing, no complaint," said Gregorio, who was later taken into custody by police.

Hotlines for hostages' families

Stuck to the bus door was a piece of paper with the handwritten message: "BIG MISTAKE TO CORRECT A BIG WRONG DECISION".

A larger piece of paper on the front windshield was headed "RELEASE FINAL DECISION" and then what appeared to be details of his case.

The road was cordoned off, with the bus isolated inside the park. Several ambulances and a fire engine were on standby.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy said it wanted police to "take all the necessary measures to secure the release and to protect the security and safety of our nationals".

Hong Kong's Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee told reporters authorities were very concerned about the incident.

Two officials were being sent to Manila and a hotline was being set up in Hong Kong for families of the hostages.

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