Monterrey, Mexico: Drug Cartel Gunmen Murder 45 In Casino Attack

27 Aug

‘BEAT BACK THE FORCES OF DESTRUCTION’

Firefighters carry an unidentified person on stretcher out of the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico, Thursday Aug. 25 2011. Two dozen gunmen burst into the casino in northern Mexico on Thursday, doused it with a flammable liquid and started a fire that trapped gamblers inside, killing more than 28 people and injuring a dozen more, authorities said. (AP Photo)

Firefighters carry an unidentified person on stretcher out of the Casino Royale in …

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — Two dozen gunmen burst into a casino in northern Mexico on Thursday, doused it with gasoline and started a fire that trapped gamblers inside, killing at least 45 people and injuring a dozen more, authorities said.

The fire at the Casino Royale in Monterrey, a city that has seen a surge in drug cartel-related violence, represented one of the deadliest attacks on an entertainment center in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels in late 2006.

“This is a night of sadness for Mexico,” federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire said in a televised address. “These unspeakable acts of terror will not go unpunished.”

Calderon tweeted that the attack was “an abhorrent act of terror and barbarism” that requires “all of us to persevere in the fight against these unscrupulous criminal bands.”

Nuevo Leon state security spokesman Jorge Domene said the number late Thursday had risen to at least 45.

“But we could find more,” said state Attorney General Leon Adrian de la Garza, adding that a drug cartel was apparently responsible for the attack. Cartels often extort casinos and other businesses, threatening to attack them or burn them to the ground if they refuse to pay.

State police officials quoted survivors as saying armed men burst into the casino, apparently to rob it, and began dousing the premises with fuel from tanks they brought with them. The officials were not authorized to be quoted by name for security reasons. De la Garza said the liquid appeared to be gasoline.

With shouts and profanities, the attackers told the customers and employees to get out. But many terrified customers and employees fled further inside the building, where they died trapped amid the flames and thick smoke that soon billowed out of the building.

Workers continuing to remove bodies well into the night.

Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal said many of the bodies were found inside the casino’s bathrooms, where employees and customers had locked themselves to escape the gunmen.

In an act of desperation, authorities commandeered backhoes from a nearby construction site to break into the casino’s walls to try to reach the people trapped inside.

Maria Tomas Navarro, 42, stood weeping at the edge of the police tape stretched in front of the smoke-stained casino building. She was hoping for word of her brother, 25-year-old Genaro Navarro Vega, who had worked in the casino’s bingo area.

Navarro said she tried calling her brother’s cell phone. “But he doesn’t answer. I don’t know what is happening,” she said. “There is nobody to ask.”

Larrazabal said the casino, in a well-off part of Monterrey, had been closed by authorities in May for building an expansion without a permit, but a judge later granted the owner an injunction to continue operating.

Initial reports said 11 people had been killed, but the death toll climbed as emergency personnel and firefighters searched the casino building. Medics treated survivors for smoke inhalation.

State police officials initially said witnesses reported hearing three explosions before the fire started, but later said a flammable material was used. The officials were not authorized to be quoted by name for security reasons.

The reports of explosions may have been the sound of the ignition of the liquid.

It was the second time in three months that the Casino Royale was targeted. Gunmen struck it and three other casinos on May 25, when the gunmen sprayed the Casino Royale with bullets, but no was reported injured in that attack.

Last month, gunmen killed 20 people at a bar in Monterrey. The attackers sprayed the bar with rounds from assault rifles, and police later found bags of drugs at the bar.

Monterrey has seen bloody turf battles between the Zetas and Gulf cartels in recent months. Once Mexico’s symbol of development and prosperity, the city is seeing this year’s drug-related murders on a pace to double last year’s and triple those of the year before.

___

Associated Press Writer Katherine Corcoran contributed to this report.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico, Thursday Aug. 25 2011. Two dozen gunmen burst into the casino in northern Mexico on Thursday, doused it with a flammable liquid and started a fire that trapped gamblers inside, killing more than 28 people and injuring a dozen more, authorities said. (AP Photo/Hans Maximo Musielik)

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico, …

NEWS UPDATE:

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Former President Vicente Fox suggested Friday that Mexican authorities consider calling on drug cartels for a truce and offering them amnesty, speaking out a day after an apparent cartel attack on a casino killed 52 people.

Fox, who served from 2000 to 2006, has since advocated legalizing drugs as a way to reduce violence. At least 35,000 and as many as 40,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the cartels in late 2006.

“I want to start a public debate on the following ideas … call on the violent groups for a truce” and “evaluate the advisability of an amnesty law,” Fox said in a speech at an anti-crime event.

Last week, the attorney general of the violence-wracked southern state of Guerrero, Alberto Lopez Rosas, drew criticism when he called on cartels to establish a truce among themselves to prevent civilian casualties in their bloody turf battles.

Federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire rejected that idea this week, saying the gangs must be arrested and disbanded.

“Regarding calls by authorities for the criminals to change their behavior, I think it couldn’t be clearer that peace is not going to be achieved by asking the criminals for something,” Poire said.

“Peace is going to be achieved by bringing the criminals to justice … that their thinking will not be influenced by appealing to their interests by calling on them to change their ways, but by giving them no choice but to submit to the law and stop their crimes.”

Also Friday, one of Mexico’s newest drug cartels posted wanted banners for members of a rival cartel, asking the public for help in capturing “kidnappers and traitors to the nation” and promising punishment.

The banners were put up by the Knights Templar, which formed around March. The cartel is an offshoot of La Familia, a pseudo-religious gang based in the western state of Michoacan. Both cartels are now feuding.

The banners showed five mugshots and listed the names of six men thought to have worked for La Familia. The banners claimed the men now are with the Zetas, another cartel that has operations throughout Mexico.

Rewards for the whereabouts of the men ranged from $100,000 to $500,000. The banner listed a phone number, which rang busy when tried by The Associated Press.

Mexican authorities took down the banners.

And on Friday, authorities in a luxurious western suburb of Mexico City found the headless body of a man and a handwritten message in which the violent Hand With Eyes drug gang took credit for the killing.

City prosecutors said the body was found in the ritzy Santa Fe neighborhood.

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