Five Zeta cartel members "confess" to arson attack on Mexican casino

Deadly assault claims 52 lives - Calderón blames America's drug culture

Mexican authorities on Tuesday presented to the press the five arrested Zeta drug cartel members who have reportedly confessed to participating in last week's arson attack at a casino in Monterrey in which 52 people were killed.

Thursday's deadly attack was carried out in retaliation against the casino's owners for not paying extortion money, say investigators.

Adrián Emilio de la Garza Santos, Mexico's attorney general, said some of the five helped block the roads with their vehicles while other members set off the blaze at the Casino Royale on the northern city's busy San Jerónimo avenue. Of the 52 people who died, 42 were women, most of them elderly. Authorities are looking for 12 others who may have taken part in the attack, De la Garza Santos said.

Rodrigo Medina, governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo León, of which Monterrey is the capital, said that some of the suspects who "confessed" can be seen in a surveillance video recorded right before the incident. The men are between the ages 18 and 37. Medina said the investigation is still ongoing but was at "a crucial stage."

"I can tell you- without giving any major details so as not to ruin the investigation that we are conducting at this moment- that we have arrested five people who have confessed to taking part in different ways in what occurred at the Casino Royale," Medina told a news conference.

The casino attack is one of the deadliest assaults at an entertainment center in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón launched his offensive against drug cartels in late 2006. The Mexican leader sent dozens of troops to Monterrey on Monday to help protect the city following the arrests.

Demand for drugs

Recalling Thursday's incident, Rosalinda, a waitress, said she and others hid inside a second-story bathroom believing the attack was an armed robbery. They stayed inside until the smoke forced them to come out. "While I was walking and holding my nose looking to get out, I asked God to let me live for the sake of my daughters. I don't know how I survived; it was a miracle," she told the Mexico City daily El Universal.

After declaring three days of official mourning, Calderón on Friday had some strong words for the United States and blamed Washington for the attack because of American society's demand for drugs.

"You too are responsible," Calderón said, addressing the US government. "If you have already decided and are resigned to consuming drugs, then look for alternative ways to keep the criminal organizations from profiting, or set up points along the border where drugs can be purchased. But this situation cannot go on."The attack on the casino took place at around 3.45pm when four vehicles pulled up in front of the establishment and about two dozen armed men began pouring gasoline around the entrance. Surveillance cameras show them setting off the blaze and dozens of people fleeing through the smoke.

According to witnesses, the men started insulting the people. "Run if you don't want to get fucked," they said.

It is estimated that some 300 people were inside the casino at the time. The attack set off a stampede, witnesses said. The entire incident occurred in about three minutes.

Emergency services taking care of an injured person after the attack on the Casino Royal in Monterrey, Mexico.
Emergency services taking care of an injured person after the attack on the Casino Royal in Monterrey, Mexico.EFE
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