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MS-13 prison gang mapFor a map of prison locations and a list of gang reports, see MS-13 Prison Locations

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MS-13: Prison Gang Profile

MS 13 were formed in the early 1980s in Los Angeles. After fleeing the death squads in civil-war-plagued El Salvador, and later settling in California, a number of Salvadoran immigrants banded together and formed MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, as a self-defence mechanism against rival Mexican gangs. The organization has about 30,000 members, 8,000 - 10,000 of which exist in the US. It is currently the largest gang in many states, including Northern Virginia, and according to user sources is the largest gang in North America, spreading to other nations in the east.

The Associated Press has reported that the gang has indulged in beheadings and grenade attacks in Central America, as well as machete attacks in cities along the East Coast in the United States.

Some corrections officials say that MS-13 markets the gang as a way to embrace Latin American heritage, encouraging youth to show pride towards their culture when it is really just a mask over the gang's real criminal objectives. According to the LA Times, Gang members pay guards to smuggle in cellphones, which members use to consult and communicate with other members in Guatemala, Honduras and the US

MS 13 is considered by some as a highly organized paramilitary group, with many members formerly belonging to Salvadoran guerrilla forces. However, FBI spokespersons have alleged that the gang is more like a "loosely structured street gang," and not a highly sophisticated criminal enterprise. MS-13 members operating on Long Island have been reported by law enforcement to fluidly share information with fellow members in Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia. Gang officials have stated that MS-13 is "difficult to track because [members] like to move around," and are "always on the go" (New York Post 1 June 2003).

As a street gang, MS-13 operates in over 30 US states, as well as several countries across Central America, especially El Salvador, Guatemala City and Honduras. Mexico has had particularly challenging problems with MS-13, conducting large-scale raids on the organization in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Aguascalientes.

MS 13 spread to Northern Virginia in the 1990s, attracted to the region's already exploding Salvardoran population, and later in the Maryland suburbs of Langley Park and Gaithersburg. There are approximately 1,500 in Northern Virginia as of 2005. They have set up shop in Texas, Maryland, and Massachusetts, sometimes luring migrant workers into the web of criminal enterprise.

Several other locations in which MS-13 have been conclusively reported on the street are listed below:

In prison, the gang has been reported in:

  • California state prisons (several)
  • Ciudad Barrios Penitentiary in San Miguel, El Salvador (2,300 miles away from the gang's birthplace)
  • Edmonton Remand Centre
  • Guatemala City (various prisons)
  • Long Island, N.Y.
  • Norfolk City Jail, Virginia
  • Southern Maryland

At least 60% of MS-13 gang members in the El Salvador's prison system, approximately 1,800 and more than all other gangs combined, are either US deportees or members fleeing criminal prosecution. Ciudad Barrios has become a safe haven for members to avoid rival violence at other, less secure prisons in the country. According to the FBI, Ciudad Barrios is like a "college" for the MS 13, displaying the cultural pride of the gang through inmate-crafted emblems, clothing, murals, and graffiti. .

MS-13 members are notorious for using deportation to their advantage. According to the (Robert Lopez, Rich Connell and Chris Kraul, 2005, The Los Angeles Times), prisons in El Salvador are the "nerve centers" for MS-13, harbouring deported leaders from Los Angeles who communicate with their fellow branches across the United States.

Over 700 MS-13 members were arrested by law enforcement task forces in 2005 alone, and many of these will likely spend significant prison terms before they are eventually deported back to their homeland. However, criticism has been leveled at the deportation policies of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which has been viewed as simply using tax payers' money to fund short visits between MS-13 members and their family abroad before they eventually return to the United States illegally. As the Times state, "Deportations have helped create an 'unending chain' of gang members moving between the U.S. and Central America," creating a kind of "merry-go-round" pattern of criminal activity between the two continents (30 Oct 2005 Los Angeles Times).

Conflicts have been reported between MS 13 and other gangs.

  • In the early days of their existence, MS 13 was once rivals with La 18, a mostly Mexican variation of the "maras" gangs that appeared in Los Angeles in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, La 18 showed up in El Salvador, then in Honduras and Guatemala, and to a slightly lesser extent in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
  • SWP-18 (Salvadorans with Pride), is another major rival, and a fatal target for many avid MS-13 prospects seeking initiation into the gang.
  • Rivalry has been reported between MS-13 and the 42nd Street Little Criminals in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • A small rivalry has been reported between the US West Coast gang, Panocho-18 and MS-13, which made local headlines in Chelsea, just outside of Boston, in 2001, where a 13 year-old boy was stabbed and left paralyzed by MS-13 members.
  • The Latin Kings have also shown rival behaviours towards MS-13, especially in Newark NJ.
  • The MS-18 branch in Suchiate, a municipality near the Guatemalan border, has also been the target of MS-13 executions, such as the three murders that occurred in 2004 in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico.
  • MS-13 members from Charlotte have reportedly fought with Brown Pride Gang members at a Latino club in Kannapolis, shooting one of them at a traffic intersection in April of 2002.
  • Trinitarios

Allies

  • the Sailors, reportedly the "most violent and influential MS branch in southern Maryland," according to the LA Times
  • The MS 13 is itself a faction of the multinational Mara Salvatrucha gang - many factions name themselves after Los Angeles street names.

 

   
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