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Massive international sting nets 660

Goal to wipe out MS-13 gang

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

El Salvador
United States
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Mexico

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A massive international sweep targeting violent MS-13 gang members in the United States and Central America produced about 660 arrests, law enforcement authorities announced Thursday.

The two-day operation, which ended early Thursday, involved more than 6,400 government agents in five countries: the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. Top officials from each country coordinated from a joint command post at FBI headquarters in Washington.

"I haven't seen anything like this in 23 years," said veteran FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker, who oversaw the operation.

Alejandro Diaz de Leon, of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, said, "There is no precedent in our law enforcement effort."

An estimated 10,000 members are in the United States, and while they have been most active in Los Angeles, New York and northern Virginia, other regions are gaining members.

Officials say Central America has about 50,000 MS-13 members, and that the operation is an important step in their common goal of eradicating the MS-13 gang in the next 18 months.

Taking the gang members off the street is only a first step in solving El Salvador's gang problem, said Douglas Omar Garcia Fumes, assistant director of investigations there.

"They continue to operate even after they're arrested. Orders to kill are coming out of our prisons. We have only one maximum security prison," he said.

The operation's scope and collaborative effort "sent a message to MS-13 and other like gangs that their criminal enterprise and the violence they perpetrate will not be tolerated," Swecker said.

The Mara Salvatrucha (MS) gang was first formed in Los Angeles by young men from El Salvador. Most of the members have family ties to that country or to Honduras.

The largest number of arrests -- 237 -- was in El Salvador, where the brutal gang is entrenched. Other arrests included 162 in Honduras, 98 in Guatemala, 90 in Mexico and 73 in the United States.

U.S. cities with the highest number of arrests were: Los Angeles, with 20; San Francisco, with 12; Atlanta, six; and Charlotte, five.

Carrying out the raids in 13 states were agents from the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement; and local police.

Last month 19 suspected MS-13 gang members were charged in a federal racketeering indictment accusing them of killings and other violent crimes. (Full story)

In May two MS-13 members were convicted for the murder of pregnant federal witness Brenda Paz. (Full story)

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