- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

More than 100 members of the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have been arrested in a sweeping nationwide anti-gang initiative called “Operation Community Shield,” including 25 in the Washington area and 10 in Baltimore.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, working with state and local law-enforcement authorities, arrested members of the Central America-rooted gang — this country’s largest and most violent criminal organization — in six cities on charges ranging from murder to immigration violations.

MS-13 members in the United States have been tied to murders, robberies, burglaries, carjackings, extortion, rapes and aggravated assaults, including at least seven killings in Virginia and Maryland, and machete attacks in Virginia in the past nine months that mutilated a 16-year-old Alexandria boy and a 24-year-old Fairfax man.

With as many as 20,000 gang members active nationally and 5,000 in Virginia and Maryland operating in groups known as “cliques,” authorities said MS-13 gangs have targeted not only civilians, rival gang members and clique traitors, but also have issued “green light” notices to kill police officers in both states.

“Operation Community Shield is an important public safety initiative for the Department of Homeland Security that targets the proliferation of gang violence throughout the country,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE.

“By bringing the full range of ICE’s immigration and customs authorities in the fight against violent street gangs, we can take hundreds of gang members off the streets and have a significant impact on community safety,” said Mr. Garcia in announcing the arrests.

Named for La Mara, a street in San Salvador, and the Salvatrucha guerrillas who fought in El Salvador’s bloody civil war, MS-13 was organized in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. It since has spread nationwide, mostly on the East Coast, and now is active in 30 states, according to U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement authorities. Gang members include suspected criminals from Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

In addition to Washington and Baltimore, ICE agents took MS-13 gang members into custody in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and Newark, N.J. — half of whom had prior arrests or convictions for violent crimes, including pending murder charges. All of them can be deported for violating U.S. immigration laws.

Former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy told a Senate committee last month that MS-13 was an emerging national security threat, suggesting that al Qaeda terrorists may have targeted the gang’s illegal-alien smuggling operations to gain entry to this country.

Mr. Garcia said that while there was no “definite information” tying MS-13 to al Qaeda, he said, “You have to accept that as a homeland security risk, as well.”

In September, The Washington Times reported that a top al Qaeda lieutenant had met with MS-13 to seek help infiltrating the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities said at the time that Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a key al Qaeda cell leader for whom the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward, was spotted in July in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with MS-13 leaders.

MS-13 is thought to have established a major smuggling center in Matamoros, Mexico, just south of Brownsville, Texas, from where it has arranged to bring illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico into the United States. In August, an FBI alert described El Shukrijumah as “armed and dangerous” and a major threat to homeland security.

At a press conference at ICE headquarters in Washington, Mr. Garcia said the agency intended to target the MS-13 leadership in this country, noting that agents and local authorities in California, New Jersey and New York had arrested gang members identified as clique leaders in those states.

“Our goal is simple: Operation Community Shield aims to dismantle the MS-13 criminal gang by removing gang members from the streets and from the community,” Mr. Garcia said.

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