Latin America & Caribbean

El Salvador claims blow against powerful street gang

Members and associates of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang are presented to the media Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Alleged members of the gang were paraded in front of the press

The authorities in El Salvador have announced a series of raids against one of the country's most powerful street gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).

Five leaders of the gang have been arrested, the attorney general said, including the finance chief.

Police detained 120 people in total and seized weapons, money, drugs and other assets.

El Salvador has been plagued by gang violence and has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Many of the deaths have been caused by the rivalry between the MS-13 and another gang, the Barrio 18.

A temporary truce between the two in 2012 saw the murder rate drop by 40%.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Gang leaders were among those detained
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mara Salvatrucha has its roots in US gang culture in the 1980s

The raids against MS-13 began on Wednesday night.

Hotels, bars, restaurants, brothels, homes and transport connected to the gang were all targeted.

Millions of dollars were seized and several bank accounts frozen, authorities said.

Justice and Security Minister Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde said it was the first time the government had disrupted the gang's financing by identifying how they were investing illicit earnings, the Associated Press reports.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Motels and other businesses were seized
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Buses were also confiscated

Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 have their roots in the 1980s in southern California.

They were created in Los Angeles and its suburbs by poor, mostly illegal, immigrants who had escaped civil wars in Central America.

When the conflicts ended there, many gang members were deported from the US, exporting LA's gang culture with them.

There are an estimated 70,000 active gang members in El Salvador.

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