Tensions Rise over Dissident MS13 Faction in El Salvador

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A breakaway faction of El Salvador’s MS13 gang has reportedly been the source of increasing conflict, underlining how gang rivalries and violence can contribute to cycles of retaliation.

Authorities in El Salvador said the high command of the MS13 has instructed members to step up the fight against a splinter group known as MS503, also known as the “revolucionarios,” reported El Diario de Hoy

The MS503 reportedly broke away from the MS13 after some gang leaders allegedly received money during negotiations with former President Mauricio Funes’s government, but chose not to share the perks with the rest of the group. 

In January 2016, a leader of the dissident group, Walter Antonio Carrillo Alfaro, alias “El Chory,” was killed in the prison of Izalco, allegedly on orders from the MS13 high command.

But the conflict did not stop with his death, and violence within the gang seems to have recently intensified both inside and outside El Salvador’s penitentiaries.

On March 24, a grenade exploded in the Ciudad Barrios prison, injuring three MS13 members, including Wilfredo Tejada Erazo, an alleged MS503 leader, according to another report by El Diario de Hoy.

According to the agency that oversees the country’s prisons, the order to target the MS503 also applies to the dissidents’ families — a policy that breaks with a longstanding tradition that barred gang members from targeting family members as retaliation. Over the past five weeks, the assassinations of women and elderly people allegedly linked to the MS503 have reportedly increased.

The dissident MS503 is largely comprised of two “programs,” which are clusters of gang cells known as “clicas.” Authorities believe the two programs, the Fulton and the Normandis, control part of the departments of Chalatenango, Ahuachapán, Sonsonate and San Miguel.

InSight Crime Analysis

The MS13’s internal divisions could lead to increasing violence in El Salvador, particularly as the traditional ban on targeting family members appears to have been revoked. Murder rates in El Salvador have reportedly decreased in 2017, a continuation of a trend that began last year. Authorities have attributed the decline to the extraordinary measures enacted against the country’s gangs, but this explanation has been subject to debate, as the gangs themselves have taken credit for the reduction in murders after publicly ordering their members to stop homicides at the end of March 2016. The escalation of the MS13’s internal feud could lead to the reversal of that trend.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

The MS13 is not the first Salvadoran gang to separate into rival groups. In 2005, the Barrio 18, fractured into two factions, the Sureños and the Revolucionarios. It is possible that the current split within the MS13 might similarly result in the formation of two separate groups evolving in different ways. 

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