Coded message used by gangs

Imprisoned gang leaders in Honduras are receiving instructions from their counterparts in El Salvador on how to transmit coded messages, reported El Heraldo, highlighting the collaboration between gangs in the two countries.

According to intelligence information obtained by Honduran newspaper El Heraldo, gang members from El Salvador have entered Honduras to train their incarcerated counterparts and new recruits in secret communication techniques.

As a result of a government initiative to block cellphone signals near the country's prisons, gangs in Honduras -- such as the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) -- are resorting to coded messages police refer to as "willas" to maintain contact between incarcerated leaders and members on the outside, El Heraldo said.

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

The coded language, comprised of a seemingly random mix of letters and figures, is used to order assassinations and other crimes, as well as send motivational messages reminding gang members to remain strong and united, the report said. According to security officials cited in the story, these messages are communicated via handwritten notes, as well as social media sites.

InSight Crime Analysis

Reports of Salvadoran gang members training their Honduran counterparts to use coded messages illustrate the level of communication and coordination between groups in the two countries. Barrio 18 and MS13 members in Honduras maintain ties to their counterparts in neighboring El Salvador, which is considered the spiritual headquarters of both gangs.

The interactions come when gang members seek refuge in territories controlled by others from their group based in the neighboring country. It may also include exchange of weapons, tactical knowledge and intelligence.

The gangs have also communicated more as the MS13 and Barrio 18 negotiated a truce in El Salvador. For a time, a similar effort seemed to be afoot in Honduras, but that negotiation process quickly fizzled. And El Salvador's truce unraveled this year during a handover of presidential power.  

The use of coded messages also reflects the gangs' ability to adapt to changes in law enforcement tactics. Incarcerated gang members in Honduras previously relied on cell phones to conduct operations and commit crimes, including extortion, from their jail cells. Most of the top leadership of these gangs in both countries are in jail.

In December 2013, however, Honduras passed a law blocking cell phone signals where prisons are located in an effort to weaken the ability of incarcerated gang members to send orders from behind bars. Faced with the same problems, authorities in El Salvador adopted a similar measure in May.

SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 Profile

Central American gangs aren't the only criminal groups who have used coded messages to communicate. In 2012, authorities in Mexico dismantled a communication system used by the Knights Templar cartel, which employed secret codes to communicate via radio, while the Zetas have reportedly used a similar system.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts, there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment.

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

When considering the possibilities that the FARC may break apart, the Ivan Rios Bloc is a helpful case study because it is perhaps the weakest of the FARC's divisions in terms of command and control, and therefore runs the highest risk of fragmentation and criminalization.

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

El Salvador's Cojutepeque jail is a perfect illustration of how prisons in this country have become the main breeding and training grounds for street gangs.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with the seemingly intractable issue of street gangs. But it also creates new dangers.

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). While this assertion seems unfounded, there is one case that illustrates just why the US government is worried about the future.

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

If we are to believe the Colombian government, the question is not if, but rather when, an end to 50 years of civil conflict will be reached. Yet the promise of President Juan Manuel Santos that peace can be achieved before the end of 2014 is simply...

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias "El Viejo Lin," is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador's gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has...

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

On May 27, 1964 up to one thousand Colombian soldiers, backed by fighter planes and helicopters, launched an assault against less than fifty guerrillas in the tiny community of Marquetalia. The aim of the operation was to stamp out once and for all the communist threat in...