The killings of 28 people on a bus in Honduras, an innocent 21-year-old man in Dallas, and a 17-year-old pregnant informant in Virginia, all are tied to a single Los Angeles branch of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a street gang formed 20 years ago in immigrant neighborhoods west of the downtown skyline, reports the Los Angeles Times. The gang’s extreme violence, vast reach, and increasing sophistication have made it a top priority at the highest levels of law enforcement and political leadership from Washington to San Salvador, the Times says.
MS-13, has between 30,000 and 50,000 members in half a dozen countries, including up to 10,000 members in the U.S.. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security for the first time placed an MS-13 member on its most-wanted fugitive list. In Honduras, four Central American presidents gathered last month to address the gang crisis.
In the U.S., the gang has spread from California into 33 other states and the District of Columbia. The expansion has come from migration as well as from calculated efforts by its Los Angeles leaders to tap new markets of criminal activity. Times interviews with law enforcement officials in four countries and reviews of intelligence reports, letters between MS-13 members, transcripts of phone conversations, and surveillance videos show that gang members communicate and coordinate criminal activity across state and international borders. “If these criminals are capable of killing 28 innocent people,” Honduran President Ricardo Maduro said in an interview, “they are capable of anything.”