Armed men killed at least 51 people in an attack on a casino in northern Mexico that left the building ablaze with gamblers trapped inside, officials said on Thursday.
People remained stuck inside the Casino Royale building in Monterrey, a prosperous city 230km from the Texas border that has suffered from increasing violence in recent months as the country’s war with drug gangs intensifies.
Nuevo Leon state attorney general Adrian de la Garza was quoted by local media as saying 51 people died in the attack. Civil protection warned the death toll could rise further.
Television images showed firemen had controlled the blaze while relatives of people trapped inside the building lined up to demand information about their loved ones.
“My wife came here for a celebration … she was having dinner with her friends,” a weeping, unidentified man told Milenio TV.
Paramedics and firemen continued to pull bodies covered with plastic bags from a hole on the wall as night fell in one of Mexico’s top industrial hubs.
“My sister was working inside as a waitress,” said another man. “I know nothing about her, there is only confusion.”
Through his Twitter account, President Felipe Calderon called the attack a “barbaric act of terror” and vowed to keep fighting organised crime.
Monterrey, a city of four million, has become a focal point of the violence stemming from Calderon’s crackdown on powerful drug cartels, which has killed 42 000 people.
National security spokesperson Alejandro Poire said in a brief televised statement that the government would do everything within its reach to stop the violence and capture those responsible for the attack.
Choked by smoke
A survivor told Milenio TV that a group of masked armed men arrived in four trucks, burst inside and threatened gamblers. Then they started spraying petrol and set fire to the place.
Many patrons ran to seek refuge in the toilets but died from asphyxiation as smoke engulfed the casino, a civil protection spokesman said.
Rescuers used an excavator from a nearby construction site to break through a casino wall to search for victims.
Twitter users from Monterrey reported scenes of chaos on the streets around the Casino Royale after the attack and heavy army presence.
Casinos have become popular in Mexico and a number of them have been attacked in recent years. Milenio newspaper also reported on Thursday that a Caliente casino in the state of Coahuila was attacked by another group of hitmen. – Reuters