MONTERREY, Mexico – 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 53 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.”
State Attorney General Leon Adrian de la Garza said 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.
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.
Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal said many of the bodies were found inside the casino’s bathrooms, where employees and customers had locked themselves in to escape the gunmen.