MEXICO CITY — At least 53 people were killed Thursday, officials said, when a northern Mexico casino was attacked by men who fired off guns and ignited drapes, rugs and furniture.
Some witnesses reported that the attackers threw grenades into the Casino Royale in Monterrey, while others said gasoline bombs started the fire. The flames trapped customers and staff in the building. A survivor told the Mexico City newspaper Reforma that many of the dead were crushed to death in a stampede for the emergency exits.
Nuevo Leon state Attorney General Leon Adrian de la Garza said authorities had located about 40 bodies “but we could find more.” Many appeared to have died from smoke inhalation. He said a drug cartel was apparently responsible for the attack.
Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina told the Televisa network late Thursday that the death toll had reached 53.
President Felipe Calderon wrote on Twitter 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.”
The Casino Royale, which offers patrons bingo and sports betting, is the third such establishment targeted this month in northern Mexico. On Wednesday night, gunmen attacked the Caliente Casino in Saltillo, following a similar attack on Aug. 15 against the Sun City casino there.
The industrial and business-oriented city of Monterrey was previously free from Mexico’s crime and murder wave, but in the last year the city has seen its homicide rates soar, as organized crime and drug gangs attack each other and police, and prey upon businesses in extortion rackets.