The Justice Department charged an alleged leader of MS-13 as a terrorist, part of a string of charges against members of the Salvadoran gang implicated in over a dozen murders, reports the Washington Post. DOJ said Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz, 30, oversaw 20 gang cliques in 13 states, including New York, California, Maryland and Virginia. He lived on and off in Virginia starting in 2003 but has stayed in El Salvador since 2016. President Donald Trump said, “We’ve done a great job with MS-13, but now we’re stepping it up even to a higher level.” Melgar Diaz is in custody facing criminal charges in El Salvador, with no indication when he might be extradited. The Justice Department simultaneously announced 21 arrests in New York and Nevada involving MS-13 and the decision to seek the death penalty against an alleged leader in the gang arrested in 2017.
The charges against Melgar Diaz focus on 2016 to 2018, when prosecutors say he took profits from cocaine dealing in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and oversaw murders and kidnappings across the U.S. as well as gun and drug smuggling from Mexico to El Salvador. Among the murders he allegedly authorized was the slaying of a 14-year-old girl in Houston believed to have cooperated with law enforcement. Starting in 2017, he was a leader in the gang, in charge of one of three U.S. “programs.” While violent, MS-13 makes little money compared with other drug-dealing gangs. Prosecutors said Melgar Diaz received $800 a month from the East Coast cliques he oversaw. MS-13 “is not driven by commercial interests,” said Attorney General William Barr, but is a “death cult.” DOJ is preparing for a death-penalty trial in Virginia against an alleged MS-13 leader accused of involvement in the slaying of two teenage boys.