8 hostages killed in Manila bus hijacking

Reporting from Seoul and Zamboanga City, Philippines -- In a desperate act to regain his job, a disgruntled ex-police officer Monday hijacked a busload of Hong Kong tourists in Manila, prompting a 12-hour drama that ended with eight captives and the suspect being killed, authorities said.

Much of the episode played out in pouring rain as authorities surrounded the bus, a maneuver that snarled traffic.

In the end, the suspect, former police Capt. Rolando Mendoza, 55, was killed by a sniper shot near the front door of the bus, where he staked out a last-stand battle with 30 police commandos, who moved in with tear gas and flash bombs. He injured one sniper before he was killed, police said.

“The hostage-taker was killed,” police Col. Nelson Yabut told reporters. “He chose to shoot it out with our men. On our first assault, Capt. Mendoza was sprawled in the middle of the aisle and shot one of our operatives. On our second assault we killed him.”

Police said they stormed the vehicle when Mendoza fired on the hostages. Several captives were seen crawling out the back door of the bus during the gunfight.

As the standoff came to an end, police vehicles and ambulances converged on the bus. Eight hostages were confirmed dead, Philippine Health Secretary Enrique Ona told Reuters news service. Five captives were unharmed. The condition of two hostages was unknown late Monday.

The standoff began when Mendoza, dressed in a camouflage uniform and armed with an M-16 rifle, hitched a ride with the tourists as they visited historic sites in the city, which didn’t seem unusual in the heavily policed capital. Then he announced that he was taking the travelers hostage to win back his job.

Mendoza was among five officers charged with robbery and extortion after a Manila hotel chef filed a complaint alleging the policemen falsely accused him of using drugs to extort money, according to 2008 newspaper reports. Mendoza denied the allegations against him.

The gunman released nine hostages in the afternoon. In a live interview with a local radio station, he threatened to kill the remaining 15 captives unless he got his job back.

“I can see there are many SWAT teams arriving; they are all around,” Mendoza said in Tagalog. “I know they will kill me. I’m telling them to leave because any time I will do the same here.”

As night closed in, negotiators lost hope of a peaceful conclusion to the standoff. Finally, police said, commandos moved in after they saw Mendoza attack the tourists as the bus driver jumped out a window.

Earlier in the night, policemen arrested a brother of the hostage-taker, Gregorio Mendoza. He had reportedly been dispatched to persuade the suspect to surrender but was later accused of instigating his brother, said Leocadio Santiago, chief of police in the National Capital Region.

The arrest of Rolando Mendoza’s brother may have prompted the gunman to shoot the hostages, police say. Moments after the arrest, several shots rang out inside the bus.

“His problem was he was unjustly removed from service,” Gregorio Mendoza told reporters as he was surrounded by police. “There was no due process, no hearing, no complaint.”

A handwritten message was left stuck to the bus’ front door. “Big mistake to correct a big wrong decision,” it read.

Later, Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang criticized Philippine authorities for their handling of the standoff, whose violent last moments were broadcast live on television.

Glionna reported from Seoul and special correspondent Jacinto from Zamboanga City.