MONTERREY, Mexico, (Reuters) – Armed men killed at least 20 people in an attack on a casino in northern Mexico that left the building ablaze with gamblers trapped inside, officials said yesterday.
People remained stuck inside the Casino Royale building in Monterrey, a prosperous city 140 miles (230 km) from the Texas border that has suffered from increasing criminal violence in recent months.
“There are more than 20 people dead but rescue efforts are still ongoing,” Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal told a news conference.
Television images showed firemen close to controlling the fire as smoke subsided while frantic paramedics went in and out the building.
Initial reports said the armed men had thrown grenades into the building but local media later retracted the reports.
A survivor told Milenio TV that a group of masked armed men driving four trucks arrived to the casino, burst into it and threatened gamblers. Then they started spraying gasoline and set fire to the place.
Several victims who were pulled from inside the casino were given first aid on the street or driven in ambulances to hospitals for checkups. Rescuers used an excavator from a nearby construction site to break through a casino wall to search for more victims.
Monterrey, a city of 4 million people, has become a focal point of the violence stemming from President Felipe Calderon’s crackdown on Mexico’s powerful drug cartels. It was not clear whether organized crime was behind the attack.
Twitter users from Monterrey reported scenes of chaos on the streets around the Casino Royale after the attack and a heavy army presence. The government of Monterrey’s home state, Nuevo Leon, has yet to give an official briefing on the attack.