MEXICO CITY (AP) — An attack on a bar in Mexico’s Gulf coast city of Coatzacoalcos killed 23 people and injured 13 late Tuesday.
The attackers started a fire that ripped through the bar, killing eight women and 15 men. There was no immediate information on the condition of the injured.
Photos of the scene showed tables and chairs jumbled around, apparently as people tried to flee.
The state prosecutor’s office in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz said the search was continuing for the attackers.
Veracruz Gov. Cuitlahuac Garcia suggested that a gang dispute was involved in the attack.
“In Veracruz, criminal gangs are no longer tolerated,” Garcia wrote of the attack, adding police, the armed forces and newly formed National Guard are searching for the attackers.
State police identified the establishment as the “Bar Caballo Blanco.”
The tatty bar is located in a storefront on a busy commercial street in Coatzacoalcos, a city whose main industry has long been oil and oil refining.
The fire may have been started with gasoline bombs.
It came almost eight years to the day after a fire at a casino in the northern city of Monterrey killed 52 people. The Zetas drug cartel staged that 2011 attack to enforce demands for protection payments.
The Zetas, now splintered, have also been active in Coatzacoalcos.
The attack, along with the killing of 19 people in the western city of Uruapan earlier this month, is likely to renew fears that the violence of the 2006-2012 drug war has returned.
Some of us will remember from following all these years, the August 2011 incident at the casino in Monterrey, where 52 were burned alive, when the place was intentionally set on fire, after an extortion negotiation was rejected.
One month after a massacre in a bar in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, that left 31 people dead, there have been no confirmed arrests in connection with the case.
The August 27 attack on the Caballo Blanco (White Horse) bar, the single worst act of violence since President López Obrador took office last December, is under investigation by the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR).
But officials there have provided no information about the progress of the probe.
According to media reports, four armed men entered the bar in downtown Coatzacoalcos and began shooting. The attackers then threw fuel inside the building followed by molotov cocktails before blocking the sole exit, leaving patrons and employees trapped inside as a fire took hold.
Among the victims were 13 women who worked as table dancers.
Veracruz Governor Cuitláhuac García Jiménez said on September 9 that the FGR had identified the perpetrators of the crime and arrested an undisclosed number of them but added that it was not up to him to provide details.
“I’m going to be respectful of the investigation process . . . The federal Attorney General’s Office will provide the information,” he said.
However, the FGR has remained silent, which would appear to indicate that there have been no arrests. Federal authorities usually make a public announcement after the perpetrators of high profile crimes have been detained.
While the investigation is shrouded in secrecy, the news website e-consulta reported that there are two main lines of inquiry: that the attack was part of a turf war between rival crime gangs or came after the owners of the bar refused to comply with extortion demands.
The Zetas cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) have been fighting for control of Coatzacoalcos since the beginning of the year. A similar attack on a bar in nearby Minatitlán in April that left 13 people dead is believed to have been linked to the dispute between the two groups.
Governor García claimed the day after last month’s attack that one of those responsible was Ricardo “La Loca” N., who is presumed to be a low-level hitman for the CJNG.
The governor – and President López Obrador – also claimed that the suspect had previously been arrested and released by the Veracruz Attorney General’s Office while headed by Jorge Winckler.
Winckler, who has been accused of collusion with organized crime, denied the charge, claiming that the Veracruz delegation of the FGR, not state authorities, released Ricardo N., who was a suspect in several arson attacks.
While the FGR has kept quiet about its investigation into the massacre that left at least 20 orphans, the National Human Rights Commission has been vocal about the case, demanding that authorities conduct an “effective and exhaustive” probe to locate and arrest those responsible and hold them to account.
The commission also urged the Veracruz government to provide protection to 12 family members of victims as well as two survivors who say they have received death threats in the aftermath of the August 27 atrocity.