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MS-13 gang seeks to unite nationwide
The international street gang MS-13 is unifying its violent members across the U.S., including the D.C. area, attempting to strengthen its criminal operation by creating a single organization.
“Traditionally, the gang consisted of loosely affiliated groups known as cliques; however, law enforcement officials have reported increased coordination of criminal activity among Mara Salvatrucha cliques in the Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York metropolitan areas,” states a confidential letter sent out earlier this month from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Illinois.
“MS-13 is attempting to become a unified criminal enterprise operating under one leadership.”
Federal law-enforcement agents say the gang is adopting tactics used by major Mexican and Colombian drug-trafficking groups and has become a gun-for-hire for many major Central and South American drug-trafficking cartels.
“Indications that previously independent cliques are forming alliances with other MS-13 cliques, as well as with other gangs to facilitate criminal activity, further heighten the threat,” the letter continued. “It would be dangerous to look at MS-13 as just another street gang.”
“These gang members are some of the most brutal people we have ever encountered,” said a DEA intelligence officer on the condition of anonymity. “Whether they are unifying, well that’s more difficult to tell. In some cases yes and in other cases no.
“But a unified criminal enterprise between all groups — it could happen. We’ll have to wait and see. What we know is that they’re getting stronger.”
MS-13, which began as a Los Angeles street gang, is responsible for thousands of killings and mutilations in the United States, Mexico and Central America. MS-13 rival gang Mara 18, based in El Salvador, is just as violent and recruited more members internationally, said detective Patrick Word of Gaithersburg, president of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network.
“While showing some regional alignment between cliques,” Mr. Word said. “MS-13 is still showing no signs that it is unifying nationally or transnationally … There is just no one leader or even a group of leaders.”
But others on the federal level disagree. The letter and presentation suggest that MS-13 has an estimated 96,000 members internationally.
“Mara Salvatrucha members typically are Salvadoran nationals or first-generation Salvadoran-Americans; however, many cliques in the United States now accept members from Belize, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico,” the letter stated.
By Brahma Chellaney
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