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Monterrey casino arsonist captured by Mexican police

The Americas Post - Apparently you don't need to be tall to burn down a casino

Police in Mexico have arrested an alleged member of the Zetas drug cartel for masterminding  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 the lead hitman who was sought on a US$1,000,000 reward for the casino attack.

Nicknamed the “Dog Killer,” Saucedo was paraded in front of reporters Friday in Monterrey in what has become usual procedure in drug war captures.

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

Saucedo, 38, told police the cartel targeted the casino because its owners hadn’t paid extortion money.  At least one of the casino’s owners has denied that claim to reporters.

Authorities have now arrested 17 of 32 suspects in the Aug. 25 casino arson. None has gone to trial.  In October, the Mexican army detained a top lieutenant of the Zetas who allegedly ordered the attack.

Gunmen stormed into the building, spread gasoline and set the building on fire, trapping and killing dozens. The casino fire horrified Mexicans accustomed to daily decapitations and massacres, because many of the victims were middle-aged women who had gone to the casino for 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 releasing 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 the number of people killed in drug war attacks.