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Philippines: Police may have shot hostages

Some victims in a botched hostage rescue of a tourist bus in the Philippines might have been hit by police fire, the nation's top law enforcement official said Thursday.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Some victims in the botched hostage rescue of a tourist bus in the Philippines might have been hit by police fire, the nation's top law enforcement official said Thursday.

The siege left eight tourists from Hong Kong dead and three seriously wounded after an ex-policeman hijacked their bus on Aug. 23 to demand his job back.

The hostage-taker was also killed when police stormed the bus after a standoff that dragged on for 12 hours on live television around the world.

Philippines Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters Thursday that bullet trajectories and the hostages' wounds indicate that some of the passengers might have been hit by "friendly fire."

De Lima said some of the forensic reports contradicted accounts that disgruntled ex-policeman Rolando Mendoza shot the passengers at close range, the BBC reported.

Police officials had said snipers positioned to target the hostage-taker, who was seeking to be reinstated in the force, were the only ones who fired at the bus. The bus driver had also testified that the hostages were shot at close range.

"From what we see from the results of the bullet trajectory examination, there were certain shots that came from afar, not all came from the snipers because we know where the snipers were," de Lima said.

De Lima, who sits on a panel reviewing the hostage rescue operation, said blood would have splattered all over the seats and windows of the bus if the hostages were shot at close range. Dried blood was found only on the seats and floor of the bus.

She did not say, however, whether any of the shots fired by police were fatal and added that investigators will await a complete ballistics report before drawing any final conclusions.

Government investigators have listened to witness testimony, pored over forensic evidence and reenacted the incident as part of their probe, the BBC reported.

President: 'I am not perfect'The new details of the investigation emerged as Philippines President Benigno Aquino III said he was through apologizing for the attack and would focus instead on easing tensions with China and Hong Kong, where officials have criticized the handling of the daylong crisis.

"Let me just say that this incident will not define this administration," Aquino said in a nationally televised news conference. He added that he would wait for a report from a fact-finding committee before he fires any officials for the fiasco.

Aquino, facing his first major test barely two months after taking office, said he would focus on preventing a repeat of the incident. The public and the media have questioned why the president was not more visible and involved.

"The first thing I will admit is I am not perfect and I can learn," said Aquino, who added that he had been following the developments from his office.

Later, he went to a restaurant near the downtown Manila park where the hostages were held to meet with officials, but he did not want to be "back seat driving" or looking over the shoulders of those handling the crisis, he said.

Aquino said he lost his patience with police commandos and their haphazard assault on the bus. "Every mistake that I saw, I pointed out," he said. "That was perhaps my way of being 'hands on.'"

He said a police Special Action Force trained for hostage rescue that had held a training exercise earlier that day was not deployed as promised. Instead, a local Manila police SWAT team was used in the assault.

Television footage showed the team was unprepared and took about an hour to break into the bus instead of just seconds, Aquino said.

The Chinese Embassy said in a statement that it expects the Philippines to come up with "a comprehensive and fair report, which tells the truth (and) upholds justice."

It said it considers the crisis to be an isolated incident.