‘Horrendous’: Bar arson attack one of Mexico’s worst mass killings

Coatzacoalcos: At least 26 people have been killed in an arson attack by suspected gang members on a bar in the southern Mexican port of Coatzacoalcos, authorities say, in a fresh blow to the government's efforts to curb violence.

Calling the attack "horrendous," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at a news briefing on Wednesday that the deaths occurred after the suspected gangsters closed the emergency exits of the bar and set fire to it.

Police stand watch outside “Bar Caballo Blanco,” Spanish for White Horse Bar, in Coatzacoalcos.Credit:AP

The attack was one of the worst mass killings since the veteran leftist Lopez Obrador took office in December pledging to pacify Mexico by battling corruption and inequality. But the number of murders has continued to rise after hitting record levels in 2018.

The Los Angeles Times reported the inferno also injured more than a dozen others. Photos taken after the flames were extinguished showed the bodies of semi-nude women strewn amid charred bar stools, it reported.

The dramatic attack was likely an act of retaliation after the bar's owner refused to let a gang sell drugs there, Veracruz Governor Cuitlahuac Garcia said. The owner was kidnapped before the bar was lit on fire, he said.

The family of Erick Hernandez Enriquez, a 29-year-old DJ at the bar and father of three, mourns his death in the attack.Credit:AP

It came almost eight years to the day after a similar fire at a casino in the northern city of Monterrey killed 52 people, and it raised concerns that Mexico's criminal groups may be returning to the kind of spectacular acts of violence that characterised earlier periods of insecurity here.

The Attorney-General's office of the state of Veracruz said in a statement that 10 women and 16 men died in the Caballo Blanco bar, while another 11 people were being treated at nearby hospitals.

Two men were later taken into custody but police did not say if they were linked to the attack.

Municipal police bring in a pair of men detained for unkown reasons, at the prosecutor’s office in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state, Mexico.Credit:AP

On Wednesday, a video circulated on social media showing the apparent decapitation of a blindfolded, captive man who local media identified as the owner of the bar.

In the video, two unidentified executioners accuse him and a second captive of selling unauthorised drugs in the bar before cutting off their heads.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video, parts of which were published in some Mexican media.

Some Mexican media reports said that gunmen had fired shots on the bar before setting it ablaze.

Tuesday's attack follows one in April on another bar in Veracruz in the city of Minatitlan that killed 13 people.

A major transit point for narcotics making their way north toward the US border, Veracruz has long been convulsed by violent turf wars between drug cartels.

While saying he did not want to blame previous governments, Obrador nevertheless pointed to past policies for laying the groundwork for the crime.

"This is the rotten fruit of the economic policy that was imposed, the policy of pillage," the president said.

Obrador said that initial investigations indicated some suspects behind the attack had been in custody but were released, criticising the state Attorney-General, who was appointed by a previous, rival administration.

In a statement, the Attorney-General's office rejected that suggestion and said the events of Tuesday night should "not be used to distort facts or confuse public opinion."

Reuters, LA Times

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