A two story casino in the northern Mexico city of Monterrey was attacked Wednesday (August 25) by a heavily armed commando force, possibly carrying grenades. Authorities said this evening at least 52 persons have been killed.
There was extensive fire damage to the structure, operated by the Royal Casinos group. Emergency personnel used machinery to remove rubble so they could reach injured victims and recover bodies, many severely burned. Some reports indicate the attackers set fire to the casino, trapping guests inside.
Monterrey is the capital of Nuevo León state, which has been wracked by narco violence as two rival organizations, Los Zetas and El Cartel del Gulfo, struggle for control.
In a Twitter message this evening Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón called the attack a “barbarous” act committed by criminals who “have no scruples.” He promised that those responsible would be hunted down and brought to justice. Alejandro Poiré, Mexico’s national security spokesman, said those responsible for the “unspeakable acts . . . will pay for their crimes.”
Calderón later declared three days of mourning for the victims.
Monterrey is no stranger to organized crime violence, but this attack may be its worst ever in terms of loss of life from a single incident. It is also one of the worst in the five year old offensive against the drug cartels launched by President Calderón in December 2006. That offensive is increasingly debated and criticized by political opponents, who have urged alternatives ranging from direct negotiations with organized crime to the legalization of drugs. Today’s brazen attack on a popular casino in a major city is certain to increase the fervor of the debate, and raise new questions about the government’s ability to guarantee anyone’s security.
By Edward V. Byrne for The Yucatan Times
August 25, 2011