MEXICO CITY — Armed men raided two hotels in the center of Monterrey, Mexico’s industrial capital, early Wednesday morning, hauling away four guests and as many as three staff members and sending a wave of panic across a city that has experienced a spate of violent episodes in recent weeks, the authorities said.
Dozens of gunmen were involved in the attacks, which occurred at 3 a.m. and were bold even by Mexican standards. They stormed through numerous rooms on the fifth floor of the Holiday Inn Centro, removing four guests but letting others go. The gunmen also abducted the hotel’s receptionist and clashed with a security guard outside the hotel, possibly taking him as well, the authorities said. A receptionist at the Misión Hotel across the street was also abducted, bringing the total number of missing people to seven, officials said.
“It could be an organized crime group who was looking for an opposing group,” said Alejandro Garza, the top prosecutor in the state of Nuevo León.
Investigators said the gunmen entered the Holiday Inn with a man who was handcuffed and who told them to go to the fifth floor of the 17-story hotel. Once there, they barged into many rooms. They took one guest’s laptop computer. Other guests reported that the gunmen looked inside and left.
In Room 501, the gunmen took Luis Miguel González, a businessman from Mexico City. In Room 502, they abducted Ángel Ernesto Montes de Oca Sánchez, also from Mexico City. Down the hall, they removed Manuel Juárez, also from Mexico City, from Room 511. Nearby, in Room 512, Araceli Hernández, from Reynosa, who registered as a businesswoman, was also taken.
David Salas, the hotel’s receptionist, was also taken, along with computer equipment that contained the hotel’s guest registry and security tapes, the authorities said. Later, armed men also took the receptionist from a hotel across the street. Initial reports that an American was among the abductees were inaccurate, American officials said.
The affiliation of the gunmen was unknown, although some officials and experts on Mexico’s drug gangs suggested that initial evidence pointed to the Zetas, a paramilitary group that engages in drug trafficking and other illegal activities and has been linked to violence in Monterrey. Before storming the hotels, the attackers stole trucks and other vehicles and used them to block access to the area, the authorities said.
“It’s absolutely unprecedented,” said George W. Grayson, a professor at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and the author of “Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?”
“You now have gunmen blocking off streets so that even if you had competent police, and you don’t in Monterrey, they can’t get to the place of operation,” he said.
Every day, Mexico’s drug traffickers seem to expand their reach and creep closer to people’s lives, whether it is a shootout in the hotel district of Acapulco or a note warning of violence in Cuernavaca that was taken so seriously that virtually no one ventured out last Friday.
Carlos Pascual, the American ambassador, delivered a speech to business leaders in Monterrey on Tuesday in which he lamented how violence had increased the cost of doing business in Mexico.
“Unchecked, violence and instability could cause corporations to rethink their business strategy of locating in Mexico,” he said at a dinner of the Monterrey Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico.
Recent violence in Monterrey, including a shootout between soldiers and traffickers that left two students dead at a private university, has clearly unnerved residents. The authorities attribute the violence to the Zetas and rival traffickers who are battling for control of smuggling routes to the United States.
“Monterrey used to be so dynamic that there was a joke that the official bird was the building crane,” Mr. Grayson said. “Now, there’s the beginnings of an exodus and it’s ‘last one out, turn out the lights.’ ”
But Gerardo Ruiz Mateos, the secretary of the economy, told reporters on Wednesday that there was no evidence that violence was hurting investment. “All countries have problems,” he said. “What investors are looking for is strength and firmness in addressing the problem.”
Antonio Betancourt contributed reporting.