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CRACKING DOWN ON VIOLENT GANGS
International Effort Nets 650 Arrests

09/09/05

Photograph of two members of the National Gang Task ForceIn cooperation with our local, state, federal, and international partners, the FBI’s MS-13 National Gang Task Force (NGTF) coordinated a series of arrests and crackdowns across the nation and throughout Mexico and Central America this week. The operation resulted in a series of arrests, searches, detentions, and other law enforcement actions. At the conclusion of the operation, more than 650 individuals had been taken into custody.

Law enforcement agencies in five nations participated in the operation targeting members of Mara Salvatrucha-13 and similar violent gangs. Most of the arrests were made Wednesday, with more than 6,400 police officers, federal agents and other officials taking part in 12 states and five countries: the U.S., El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.

“The gangs are organizing internationally, and so are we,” said Chris Swecker, FBI assistant director in charge of our Criminal Investigative Division, discussing the operations Thursday. He called the operations “historic and unprecedented in scope.”

In the United States, 73 individuals were arrested on a range of charges, including immigration violations. In El Salvador, more than 237 individuals were arrested, in addition to 162 in Honduras, 98 in Guatemala and 90 in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Police in each country conducted separate operations coordinated through the FBI’s MS-13 NGTF.

Law enforcement officials recovered at least one weapon possibly linked to a murder during the raids, as well as numerous other weapons and drugs, Swecker said.

The FBI’s MS-13 NGTF was established last year to help coordinate and focus law enforcement efforts to combat MS-13 and similar gangs. There are an estimated 10,000 MS-13 members in the United States and an additional 50,000 in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Members of MS-13 have been identified in 33 states, the District of Columbia, Mexico and Central America. In the United States, the largest concentrations are in California, Northern Virginia, and New York.

“We are very happy with the cooperative effort by the U.S. in fighting the so-called Mara, or gangs,” said Hector Salazar-Ochoa, captain in the Guatemalan National Civil Police. He and representatives from the other participating nations appeared with Swecker at FBI headquarters to announce results of the operations.

“The ultimate goal of the task force is to dismantle MS-13 and disrupt the threat it poses to our domestic and national security,” Swecker said. The arrests—as well as searches, detentions, and other actions taken this week—were not a culmination of a particular investigation, but part of an ongoing battle against the gangs.

In the United States, the arrests involved over 625 officers from more than 30 state and local law enforcement agencies and officials from the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Customs and Border Patrol; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Additionally, agents from the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service provided assistance in the coordination of the foreign operations.

“By bringing together resources from the local, state, federal and international law enforcement community, all levels of U.S. law enforcement and our international partners are working together and sharing information,” Swecker said. “This represents a beginning, another step in an ongoing national and international effort to go on offense and to strike back against gang violence.”