El Salvador’s street gangs were reportedly involved in a criminal network that trafficked weapons into the country, a worrying sign of increased sophistication on the gangs’ part.
Authorities in El Salvador detained 90 people accused of participating in a criminal network that sold illegal weapons sourced from Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Among those arrested were at least 21 alleged members of street gang the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), ElSalvador.com reported.
A key coordinator of the network was an imprisoned MS13 leader, Medardo Arana Castro, alias “Pilot,” reported La Prensa Grafica. Other important players include two Nicaraguan brothers, Aaron Noel and Darwin Jose Ponce Alvarado, who are accused of smuggling the weapons from other Central American countries into El Salvador. Additionally, arms traffickers based within El Salvador were involved in buying, storing, and selling the weapons, along with 16 factions or “clicas” of the MS13, according to La Prensa Grafica.
The probe into the arms trafficking ring also allowed investigators to collect evidence related to other crimes, including several extortion and homicide cases. Two murders involved security guards who likely interfered in the MS13’s extortion activities, the report said.
Within El Salvador, the gun traffickers charged as much as $600 for pistols, $1,200 for assault rifles and $600 for grenades, La Prensa Grafica reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
Weapons are obviously a vital part to the MS13’s modus operandi, but there are few legal cases that shed light on how, exactly, the gangs source their weapons. That being said, El Salvador has a long-running problem of arms disappearing from official military stockpiles, alongside reports that street gangs are bearing military-grade weaponry.
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If several MS13 members were indeed in touch with arms traffickers who moved weapons from other Northern Triangle countries into El Salvador, that is arguably a more sophisticated way of obtaining weapons than buying off local, corrupt security officials. Still, this appears to be a case in which the MS13 were primarily involved in buying and distributing guns within El Salvador, rather than coordinating the transnational sale of weapons themselves.