WASHINGTON— Over two dozen alleged leaders and members of MS-13 have been arrested and charged as part of a federal law enforcement operation aimed at disrupting the criminal gang. President Trump announced this on Wednesday, July 15 at the White House with Attorney General William Barr and other senior law enforcement officials.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) originated in Los Angeles, California in the 1970s and 1980s. The gang consisted of Salvadoran immigrants that rivaled other gangs in the area. Throughout the years, it expanded and is active in many parts of the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. There are an estimated 1.4 million gang members in the U.S., MS-13 accounts for less than 1% of them with approximately 10,000 members. It is the only street gang designated by the Treasury Department as a transnational criminal organization. Its criminal activities include: trafficking (drugs, arms, human), racketeering, murder, money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, robbery, illegal immigration, and battery.

MS-13 members in El Salvador’s Penal de Ciudad Barrios. Photo courtesy of @adamhinton via Instagram.

“We’ve just concluded a historic operation, leading to the arrest and indictment of dozens of savage MS-13 members and leaders all across the country,” said President Trump. 

The initiative that has targeted high-level MS-13 leaders is known as Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV). Launched in August 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice has stated it is aimed at “disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately, destroying MS-13.”

The arrests were made in Virginia, Nevada, and New York.

In Virginia, an alleged leader, Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz, has been arrested on terrorism-related charges. According to Attorney General Barr, this is the first time an MS-13 member has been indicted on such charges. Diaz is said to be responsible for various states and cliques, and approving assassinations ordered by MS-13 El Salvador-based leadership.

In New York and Nevada,  21 MS-13 members were arrested. Among which were leaders of “Hollywood Locos” and the “Los Angeles Program.”

In a separate case, Attorney General Barr said he will seek the death penalty for another alleged MS-13 member, Alexi Saenz, 25. Saenz was arrested in 2017 on seven murder charges, including killing two high school students.

“We believe the monsters who murder children should be put to death. We seem to have quite a good agreement on that,” remarked Trump.

President Trump stated that more than 20 of the indicted members entered the United States illegally. Additionally, that over the past three years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deported over 16,000 gang members and arrested over 2,000 MS-13 members.

President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador has also stood against MS-13. El Salvador has one of the world’s highest murder rates because of gangs like MS-13. MS-13 has also infiltrated the government and demanded political legitimacy.

“The gangs have been running this parallel state. They charge taxes, they control territory, they provide security. But I’m not gonna convert their de facto power into formal power,” said President Bukele to Vice News in June of 2019.