10:05 GMT27 January 2021
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    MS-13, otherwise known as Mara Salvatrucha, is an international criminal organization considered one of the most notorious street gangs within the Western Hemisphere. The group originated in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s and gained notoriety over the decades for its ruthlessness as its reach extended across the US and Central America.

    US federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment on Thursday that charged 14 high-ranking MS-13 leaders with various counts of terrorism, three of whom are not presently in custody and are the subjects of federal manhunts.

    A release by the US Justice Department (DoJ) identifies the individuals as the gang’s “board of directors” and notes that the targeted leaders “directed MS-13’s violence and criminal activity around the world for almost two decades.”

    The agency explains that the defendants make up the Ranfla Nacional, which comprises the highest level of the gang’s leadership. Among the defendants is Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, whom the DoJ describes as the “most powerful member” of the leadership body.

    The charges announced by the department are conspiracy to provide and conceal material support to terrorists, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to finance terrorism and narco-terrorism conspiracy in connection with the defendants’ leadership of the transnational criminal organization.

    A Mara Salvatrucha gang member talks to his lawyer prior to the start of a court trial at the Isidro Menendez Judicial Center in San Salvador, El Salvador, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. El Salvador on Tuesday began a mass trial of over 400 alleged gang members, including purported leaders of the feared transnational crime group Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.
    © AP Photo / Salvador Melendez
    A Mara Salvatrucha gang member talks to his lawyer prior to the start of a court trial at the Isidro Menendez Judicial Center in San Salvador, El Salvador, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. El Salvador on Tuesday began a mass trial of over 400 alleged gang members, including purported leaders of the feared transnational crime group Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

    At present, 11 of the defendants, including Henriquez, are in custody in El Salvador. The release states Justice Department officials are exploring options for extraditing the MS-13 leaders to the US. 

    The three individuals still at large are Fredy Ivan Jandres-Parada, Cesar Humberto Lopez-Larios and Hugo Armando Quinteros-Mineros. Officials are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of each of the wanted men.

    The indictment, which was filed by the US Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, highlights how the Ranfla Nacional began holding military-style training sessions and raised funds to purchase firearms in an attempt to exercise its power over the government of El Salvador after a so-called "truce" between the pair was broken in 2015 and prompted stricter measures against imprisoned gang members.

    “The indictment announced today is the highest-reaching and most sweeping indictment targeting MS-13 and its command and control structure in US history,” acting US Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement accompanying the release.

    “By working side-by-side with our US law enforcement partners and with our partners in El Salvador, we have charged MS-13’s highest-ranking leaders with operating a transnational criminal organization that utilizes terror to impose their will on neighborhoods, businesses and innocent civilians across the United States and Central America.”

    In this March 26, 2012 photo, an inmate belonging to the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang stands inside the prison in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. Six months after El Salvador brokered an historic truce between two rival gangs to curb the nation's daunting homicide rate, officials are split over whether the truce actually works. The gangs, which also operate in Guatemala and Honduras, are seeking truce talks in those countries as well.
    © AP Photo / Luis Romero
    In this March 26, 2012 photo, an inmate belonging to the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang stands inside the prison in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. Six months after El Salvador brokered an historic truce between two rival gangs to curb the nation's daunting homicide rate, officials are split over whether the truce actually works. The gangs, which also operate in Guatemala and Honduras, are seeking truce talks in those countries as well.

    Acting US Attorney Seth D. DuCharme added in a statement that even when members of the Ranfla Nacional were incarcerated, they continued to manage the group’s operations and orchestrate crimes while working to recruit new members. The gang is estimated to have tens of thousands of members across much of Central America and the US.

    Officials indicated that if defendants are convicted, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison; however, as MS-13’s hierarchy allows operations to continue even when leaders are imprisoned, it’s uncertain how law enforcement officials intend to halt the gang's operations.

    Early on in his administration, US President Donald Trump called for stiff measures to be implemented to stop MS-13’s actions in the US, with the Justice Department eventually launching Joint Task Force Vulcan to dismantle the violent organization. According to the DoJ, the gang has managed to steadily grow its presence in Long Island, New York, as well as in North Carolina and California.

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    Tags:
    US Justice Department, El Salvador, charges, US, Central America, MS-13, MS-13 gang
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