Authorities have linked several recent murders in the Washington, DC area to alleged members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, suggesting the organization’s El Salvador-based leadership may be moving to consolidate its relationship with US-based “cliques”.
Earlier this month, the body of 22-year-old Honduran migrant Rigoberto Gutierrez Cruz was found in a wooded area near the DC suburb of Gaithersburg, Maryland. According to court documents reviewed by local journalist Armando Trull, Cruz was targeted by MS13 after he reported an earlier beating he suffered at the hands of alleged gang members.
In September, a high school student and recent Salvadoran immigrant was shot dead in Sterling, Virginia, another suburb of DC. Several press reports have linked the suspected killers to MS13, though this has not been confirmed. The victim had no known ties to gang activity, but a number of sources suggested he may have been targeted for crossing local gang boundaries.
In June, a federal judge sentenced three Maryland and DC-based MS13 leaders to prison for their involvement in what the Washington Post described as “a two and a half year run of…killing of rivals, beating of informants, extortion and drug dealing in competition with other local Latino gangs.” The US Department of Justice stated that the defendants were “among numerous individuals charged in a 2010 indictment alleging criminal acts committed between 2008 and 2010 in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and other states, as well as in El Salvador.”
Last October, the Post quoted Michael McGarrity, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, saying, “We’ve seen a reemergence or reconstitution of MS13 over the last year and a half. With that has come an increase in violence…They are being more organized in what they do, how they do it and what they do it for.”
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As Salvadoran authorities continue to ramp up the fight against gangs, MS13 could be seeking to solidify its relationship with its international branches in the DC area to boost earnings. According to the Post, “experts traced the renewed activity to the gang’s leadership in El Salvador trying to create a more disciplined and structured organization in order to rejuvenate its ability to make money.”
Additionally, Maryland state prosecutor John McCarthy told Trull that he had seen intelligence reports “talking about a desire of MS13 under the direction and guidance of organizations coming out of El Salvador to re-establish their membership in the [DC] metropolitan area” in order to boost recruitment and revenues. In its 2012 listing of MS13 as a transnational criminal organization, the US Treasury Department indicated that US-based cliques take orders from MS13 leaders in El Salvador and contribute financially to the organization’s operations there.
SEE ALSO: MS13 News and Profile
Several law enforcement agencies, including the DC Metropolitan Police Department, declined or did not return requests for comment on this story. However, a northern Virginia law enforcement official speaking on background told InSight Crime that authorities had observed growing attempts by MS13 to recruit new members, especially minors, to local cliques. The official also confirmed receiving intelligence reports indicating the recruitment effort could be tied to the desire of MS13 leadership in El Salvador to increase their revenues from abroad.
US authorities clearly consider MS13 a serious threat both at home and abroad. In addition to targeting the group’s leadership with financial sanctions, both local and federal agencies have cooperated with their Salvadoran counterparts in attempts to disrupt the group’s international operations.