3,800 Gang Suspects Charged in US-Central American Six-month Roundup

U.S. and Central American law enforcement authorities announced Friday that they have charged more than 3,800 members of the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs in coordinated law enforcement action since March.

The charges, announced in Miami by acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco and the attorneys general of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, reflect a stepped-up effort by the Trump administration to root out transnational criminal gangs in the United States.

With an estimated 10,000 members in the United States, MS-13 is the one of the largest street gangs in the country and the only one designated as a transnational criminal organization by the Treasury Department. The 18th Street gang, also known as Barrio 18, is a multiethnic gang that, like MS-13, operates in major U.S. cities.

“MS-13 is one of the most violent and ruthless gangs in America today, endangering communities in more than 40 states,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “But under President Trump’s strong leadership, the Department of Justice is taking them off our streets.”

While the vast majority of the charges were brought in El Salvador, MS-13’s home turf, officials said more than 70 gang members living in the United States have been indicted in the past six months.

Racketeering indictment

The gang’s El Salvador-based “East Coast Program” leader, Edwin Manica Flores, was charged in a racketeering indictment unsealed in Boston on Thursday, the Justice Department said.

The Trump administration has vowed to get the gang members off the streets.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in February to “dismantle and eradicate” the transnational gangs.

In March, Sessions met with his counterparts from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to develop “strategies and concrete plans to give a strong and coordinated response to MS-13’s increasingly transnational criminal activities.”

The arrests stemmed from the joint effort, Sessions said.

“MS-13 coordinates across our borders to kill, rape and traffic drugs and underage girls; we’ve got to coordinate across our borders to stop them,” Sessions said in a statement.

Central American law enforcement officials said their close cooperation with the United States was paying off.

“Studying their modus operandi, we realized tackling [the gangs] would require working jointly with the United States, Guatemala and El Salvador,” said Honduran Attorney General Chinchilla Banegas. “This approach has allowed us to share information and strike the financial structures of the gangs.”

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