Phone Tap Shows US – El Salvador MS13 Connections

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A recorded phone call between MS13 members imprisoned in El Salvador and leaders in the United States indicates an increasingly sophisticated command structure, and has highlighted the operational links between the gang’s branches in the two countries.

The two hour phone conference, intercepted by Salvadoran authorities, occurred after alias “Cobra,” a Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) leader operating out of the Ciudad Barrios prison in El Salvador’s La Union department, discovered that other members of the gang wanted to remove him from his position, reported El Diario de Hoy.

During the phone call, alias “Scarface,” speaking from a prison in Santa Ana, California, told alias “Fayer” that he did not have permission to expel Cobra from the gang leadership, and said, “I have the last word here.” He also told Fayer that everyone who participated in the plot would receive a beating, and finally ordered that $1,500 be sent to another MS13 leader in Los Angeles.

Cobra told the others, “I have everyone in the United States backing me.”

In another example of the gang’s reach in the United States, La Prensa Grafica reported that the Salvadoran national police link at the Salvadoran embassy in Washington DC receives an average of 6.3 reports of transnational extortions of US-based Salvadorans by gangs in their homeland each month, based on 2012 data, with payment demands usually ranging from $200 to $3,000.

InSight Crime Analysis

The MS13 has a presence in the Washington DC metropolitan area, and in Los Angeles, California, its birthplace. US surveillance has shown that both the MS13 and their rivals Barrio 18 maintain regular contact with US counterparts, and the news that the gang frequently extorts US-based Salvadorans suggests a high level of coordination between US and Salvadoran members. 

In 2012, the US also listed the MS13 as a transnational organized crime group based on the growing sophistication and transnational reach of the group, with officials saying US members answer to a central command in El Salvador. While there remain substantial doubts over whether the MS13 can be classified as such, the most recent phone intercept indicates that the level of transnational coordination may be higher than first thought, although in this case it was US leaders passing orders to El Salvador counterparts, not the other way round.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador’s Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

There have been indications that the truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 has strengthened the gang hierarchy, as the leadership has had to run a tighter organization to ensure the truce is respected, a development that may itself foster more transnational coordination as the gangs become increasingly organized.

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