More than 650 suspected gang members arrested in five-country crackdown


By MARK SHERMAN
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- More than 650 suspected members of MS-13 and other gangs were arrested in the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in a coordinated crackdown on violent Hispanic gangs, officials said Thursday.

But even as a senior FBI official set a goal of dismantling MS-13 in the next 18 months, police officials from the other countries described vast challenges in quelling gang activity in their prisons and disrupting recruitment.

The roundup, conducted Wednesday by 6,400 law enforcement officers in the five countries, was run out of FBI headquarters in Washington, FBI assistant director Chris Swecker said.

"Our end game is to take out the leadership elements especially," Swecker said at a news conference. "These arrests are a means to that end."

Police and federal agents made 73 arrests, more than half on immigration charges, in 13 states, Swecker said. Thirty-two people were arrested in California alone.

Authorities also arrested 237 people in El Salvador, 162 in Honduras, 98 in Guatemala and 90 in Mexico. The arrests in Mexico all took place in the southern Chiapas state, near the border with Guatemala.

MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, originated in Los Angeles among Central American immigrants. An estimated 10,000 MS-13 members are in the U.S., with the highest concentrations in Los Angeles, New York, northern Virginia and Maryland, the FBI said.

MS-13 may have as many as 50,000 members in the other four countries, officials said.

The foreign police officials said they are all but powerless to stop gang activity in the prison population. "The gang leader must die," said Gen. Mirna Suazo Rivera of the Honduran National Preventive Police.

In El Salvador, poor areas are fertile recruiting grounds, where "10,000 gang members have 10,000 families, brothers, sons, nephews, cousins," said Douglas Omar Garcia-Funes, the country's assistant director of investigations.

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