53 dead in attack on Mexico casino
Published 26/08/2011 | 08:02
Workers are continuing to pull bodies out of a burned casino in northern Mexico, where gunmen spread petrol and ignited a fire which trapped and killed at least 53 gamblers and employees.
Relatives gathered at the cordon outside the Casino Royale in Monterrey, some crying and others yelling at police for providing no information. Later they were allowed to view bodies to help identify the victims.
Governor Rodrigo Medina told the Televisa network that the death toll had reached 53. The fire in a city that has seen a surge in drug cartel-related violence represented one of the deadliest attacks on an entertainment centre in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels in late 2006.
Mr 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".
Attorney general Leon Adrian de la Garza said a drug cartel was apparently responsible for the attack, though he did not say which one. Cartels often extort casinos and other businesses, threatening to attack them or burn them to the ground if they refuse to pay.
It was the second time in three months that the Casino Royale had been targeted. Gunmen struck it and three other casinos on May 25, spraying the building with bullets, but no-one was reported injured in that attack.
The fire in the two-storey casino was reported just before 4pm local time, a slow time of day when normally about 80 people played the tables and slots, said former security guard Alberto Martinez Alvarado, 30, who on his way home from work when he saw the fire. He said the casino could hold hundreds, perhaps 1,000 people.
State police officials quoted survivors as saying that 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 toilets, where employees and customers locked themselves to escape the gunmen.