MEXICO CITY – The five suspects arrested in connection with the attack last week on a casino in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey that left 52 people dead told investigators they did not plan to kill anyone and only wanted to scare the establishment’s owners, officials said Tuesday.
The suspects, who have confessed to the attack and are being held under a preventive arrest order while prosecutors build the case against them, were paraded before the press Tuesday at the Nuevo Leon state Attorney General’s Office.
The five men were photographed in front of the vehicles they used to carry out the attack last Thursday on the Casino Royale in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon.
Los Zetas, Mexico’s most violent drug cartel, is suspected of ordering the attack on the casino, Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina said Monday, citing information obtained following the suspects’ arrests.
Los Zetas started out as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel but broke with that criminal organization in March 2010, unleashing a wave of violence across Mexico in an effort to grab new territory.
The suspects told investigators they were “scolded” by their bosses for killing so many people at the casino, which was the target of an extortion racket common in several parts of Mexico, officials said.
Investigators have obtained videos showing the suspects filling containers at a service station with the gasoline they later used to torch the casino, as well as other images from security cameras that show the suspects’ vehicles arriving at Casino Royale, Nuevo Leon Attorney General Adrian Emilio de la Garza said Tuesday.
The suspects have confessed to the casino attack and other crimes, including kidnappings and murders, De la Garza said, adding that physical evidence, such as fingerprints, linked the men to the vehicles used in the attack.
At least 12 people took part in the attack and videos from security cameras show “other accomplices” who had not been spotted by investigators during the initial review of the footage, De la Garza said.
One vehicle stops in the middle of the street to “see whether the attack that was ordered is being staged,” the Nuevo Leon AG said.
“Based on the statements and evidence we have, we can determine that the people were not the target,” De la Garza said, adding that some of those involved in the attack “are burned.”
“It was a situation that became chaotic and got out of control,” the Nuevo Leon AG said.
The criminals ordered the security guards and other people inside the casino to get out, preventing more people from dying, De la Garza said.
Authorities have asked Interpol for assistance in locating Casino Royale owner Raul Rocha Cantu, federal Attorney General’s Office regional chief Jose Cuitlahuac Salinas said.
Investigators have obtained a statement from a pilot who they are certain flew Rocha Cantu out of the country, the federal prosecutor said.
Federal authorities are looking for the Casino Royale owner so they can get a statement from him.
The casino torched last week is owned by Grupo Royale, which has gambling establishments in the cities of Monterrey, Mazatlan, Los Cabos and Escobedo.
“It is very important to use this tragic event as an opportunity to once and for all” impose order on the casino industry, Gov. Medina said.
Some casinos operate under court orders and the licenses of others are passed from person to person without any oversight, the governor said.
The federal government completed the deployment on Monday of 1,500 army troops in Monterrey to bolster security in the wake of the attack on the casino.
A total of 1,500 Federal Police officers arrived Sunday in Monterrey as part of the federal government’s efforts to restore order to the industrial city.
Monterrey and its suburbs have been battered by a wave of drug-related violence since March 2010, when three rival cartels reportedly went to war with Los Zetas.
Los Zetas has been battling an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels, known as the Nueva Federacion, for control of the Monterrey metropolitan area and smuggling routes into the United States.
A total of 267 murders were registered in Monterrey in 2009, with the figure rising to 828 in 2010 and more than 1,100 so far this year, according to official figures.
Los Zetas has been blamed for several massacres in Mexico, including the August 2010 killings of 72 migrants, the majority of them from Central America, at a ranch outside San Fernando, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
The cartel is also suspected of being behind the killings of 183 people whose remains were found in 40 mass graves in Tamaulipas in the spring. EFE