MONTERREY, Mexico – Armed men wearing hoods entered a popular restaurant in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey early Friday and forced the staff to leave before dousing the interior with gasoline and setting it ablaze, the Nuevo Leon state Attorney General’s Office said.
“The fire happened before 7 in the morning. Three people arrived at 6:30 in the morning, there were already people obviously preparing to open the restaurant, there were no diners. The toll at the moment is two people injured,” Deputy Attorney General Luis Orozco said.
He said the arson was the act of would-be extortionists seeking to send a “message.”
The restaurant, El Gran Pastor, known for its cabrito (roast goat kid), the traditional dish of Monterrey, had received threats prior to the attack, but authorities kept the information confidential to protect the investigation, Orozco said.
Several area residents uploaded to social media videos and photos of the fire and of emergency vehicles rushing to the scene.
The blaze came less than a year after armed men came to the restaurant and dragged the manager out before killing him.
Friday’s attack brought back memories of the Aug. 25, 2011, arson fire just 200 meters (200 yards) away at Monterrey’s Casino Royale, where 52 people died.
The casino was targeted by members of the Los Zetas cartel because the owners refused to pay protection money.
The Monterrey metropolitan area, which is home to 4.5 million people, has experienced a recent increase in violence reminiscent of the darkest days of 2010, 2011 and 2012, when murders were occurring at a pace of 2,000 a year.
Just in the past few, nearly a dozen containers holding dismembered bodies have been left outside jails and other government buildings, accompanied by threatening messages directed at authorities and rival criminal organizations.
There have also been attacks with high-caliber weapons against garrisons of the Nuevo Leon state police and against officers on patrol.
Last July, 15 people were killed and seven others wounded in attacks early on bars in Monterrey, Mexico’s leading industrial hub and the headquarters of many major corporations.
The coordinated attacks targeted at least five bars across the Monterrey metropolitan area and were suspected to have been the work of gunmen from the Gulf cartel.
The bars that were attacked, according to the AG’s office, were purportedly linked to the Cartel del Noreste, formed by former members of the Zetas, who waged a brutal war against the Gulf cartel.