In November, six suspected members of Mara Salvatrucha, the violent Central American gang known as MS-13, swept through a Houston house where a rival gang had stashed drugs, says USA Today. They used paramilitary tactics including perimeter lookouts, high-powered weaponry and a quick, room-by-room sweep of the house that was notable for its precision and sophistication. The incident ended in a shootout with police in which two suspects were killed.
Bob Clifford, who directs a new FBI unit dealing with MS-13, says the battle symbolized the gang’s development from a smattering of loosely organized cells across the nation to an increasingly efficient and dangerous organization that has become a significant threat to public safety. Clifford says the group includes “theft crews” who steal over-the-counter cough and cold medicines from drugstores. Such medicines, which can be abused or used to make other drugs, are then sold to help finance MS-13 units. The Houston shootout raised questions about whether the gang – whose original members in Los Angeles included people with paramilitary training who fled the civil war in El Salvador during the 1980s – is evolving into an organization in that image.