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A lengthy investigation into notorious international crime syndicate MS-13 has resulted in some 40 arrests across the South American republic of El Salvador.
A spokesman for newly appointed attorney general Rodolfo Delgado said a series of pre-dawn raids had been carried out Friday in the departments of La Libertad, Santa Ana and San Salvador, following information that the gang was planning up to 17 murders.
An additional 18 members who are already behind bars have also been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, drug trafficking, and for belonging to a terrorist organisation.
Juan Mancía, reportedly the founder of the gang’s El Salvador cell, and leading members Elí Jiménez, Francisco Espinoza and Cristian Jiménez are among those picked up.
Firearms, drugs, burner phones and huge amounts of cash were also seized by special forces troops during the early-morning raids.
The gang, notorious for its ultra-violent methods, is estimated to have tens of thousands of members in South America, the US and in Europe.
The gang requires its prospective members, or “chequos,” to commit at least one murder of a rival gang member before they become full-fledged gang members or “homeboys.”
As part of the acceptance ritual the new members are then savagely beaten by other gang members.
The gang is known to have been responsible for hundreds of murders.
In 2004, 28 civilians were murdered and a further 14 were injured when MS-13 members in Honduras raked a city bus with fire from automatic weapons as a protest against the death penalty.
The gang is known for involvement in child abuse, as well as drug trafficking and illegal arms dealing.
US Attorney General William Barr said the gang wasn’t like other crime syndicates: "MS-13 is somewhat unique in this sense…they have the street savagery that you would see in a gang is not driven by commercial interests the way, for example, the mafia traditionally was.
"It's about honour of being the most savage, bloodthirsty person you can be and building up a reputation as a killer.”
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