Mexico Nabs Key Suspect In Arson That Killed 52

By Salon Staff

Published January 6, 2012 11:00PM (EST)

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — Police in Mexico captured an alleged member of the Zetas drug cartel considered the mastermind behind a casino fire that killed 52 people in the northern city of Monterrey, authorities said Friday.

Jorge Domene, security agency spokesman for Nuevo Leon state, said Baltazar Saucedo Estrada is a main hitman who was sought on a 15 million peso, or $1 million, reward because of the casino attack.

Saucedo, nicknamed the "Dog Killer," was shown to reporters Friday in Monterrey in what has become usual procedure in drug war captures.

Domene said the suspect acknowledged he was involved in the Casino Royale arson and other high-profile crimes in routine confessions that may be permissible as court evidence.

The suspect told police the cartel targeted the casino because its owners hadn't paid extortion money, a theory officials confirm. At least one of the casino's owners has denied the claim to reporters.

Saucedo, 38, was arrested Thursday but lied about his identity, Domene said.

He added that Saucedo along with another man were detained by state police in Monterrey because they appeared suspicious.

Police ordered the two men to stop their van, but they gave chase and crashed into a car. Saucedo was identified hours later as he was being fingerprinted.

Authorities have arrested 17 of 32 suspects in the Aug. 25 casino arson. None have gone to trial.

In October, the Mexican army captured a top drug cartel lieutenant of the Zetas who allegedly ordered the attack.

Gunmen stormed into the building, spread gasoline and set the building on fire, trapping and asphyxiating dozens.

The casino fire horrified Mexicans accustomed to daily decapitations and massacres, because most of the victims were middle-aged women who had gone to the casino to gamble or eat lunch with their friends.

By several groups' counts, more than 45,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon launched an armed offensive against drug gangs. The government stopped giving figures on drug war dead when the toll rose to nearly 35,000 a year ago.

On Thursday, Mexico's freedom of information agency sent the attorney general a letter urging it to update homicide numbers in the country's drug war to include the deaths in 2011.

The Federal Institute for Access to Public Information says it has twice appealed government refusals to release the tally.

Spokesman Nestor Martinez said Friday that the independent body will decide whether it will investigate the government at its weekly meeting next Wednesday.

The institute ruled in 2011 that the murder numbers must be public. But the attorney general's office said Thursday it was still gathering information from states to separate drug-related homicides from other killings.

Before stopping, Mexico's government had announced more than twice a year how many people had been killed in drug war attacks.


Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Salon Staff

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