HomeNewsBriefSpain Arrest of Barrio 18 Leader Signals Gang's European Expansion
BRIEF

Spain Arrest of Barrio 18 Leader Signals Gang's European Expansion

BARRIO 18 / 12 SEP 2016 BY DAVID GAGNE EN

Spanish police have arrested an alleged leader of the Barrio 18 gang, a further indication that Central America's street gangs are seeking to expand their presence in Europe.

Spain's National Police announced on September 12 that it had arrested in Madrid a Barrio 18 leader known by the alias "Mexicano." According to the police, Mexicano was wanted on several criminal charges and was carrying false identification documents at the time of his arrest. Although his alias suggests he may be a citizen of Mexico, authorities did not specify the suspected gang leader's nationality.

Mexicano's capture stemmed from a joint investigation involving Spanish, Honduran and Salvadoran police forces. The investigation found that Barrio 18 leaders in those Central American nations had ordered members to begin gang operations in Spain.

InSight Crime Analysis

Mexicano's presence in Spain suggests that Barrio 18 is making a concerted effort to establish stronger ties to Europe. Arrests last year confirmed the gang is also operating in Italy. While Spain seems like a natural landing spot for gang members given that there is no language barrier, Italy is also attractive because it is home to Europe's largest population of Salvadoran expatriates. Officials and non-governmental organizations estimate there are at least 40,000 Salvadorans living just in the metropolitan area of Milan. 

Barrio 18's apparent push into Europe is matched by its archrival, the MS13. Raids conducted by Italian and Spanish police in 2013 and 2014, respectively, led to the arrests of dozens of suspected MS13 gang members. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime

Barrio 18 and MS13 are concentrated in the Northern Triangle region of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and they also have a presence throughout much of the rest of Central America, as well as Mexico and the United States. Nonetheless, the extent of the gangs' transnational ties remains an open question, as the links between the different branches are often highly tenuous.

The presence of Central American-based gangs in Europe is not a new phenomenon; both the MS13 and Barrio 18 have had a presence in Italy since the mid-2000s. There is increasing evidence, however, that the gang members in Europe are taking orders from Central American bosses. In addition to the recent case involving Mexicano, the gang members arrested in 2014 in Spain were reportedly Salvadorans sent overseas to build up MS13 operations in the country.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 19 NOV 2021

A surge in US-bound migrants has been a boon to human smuggling rings in Ecuador – in a pattern that…

COCAINE / 4 MAY 2022

A shootout involving French police and suspected cocaine traffickers in the northern city port of Le Havre has dramatically underscored…

COCAINE / 9 FEB 2021

In July 2020, British drug trafficker Robert Dawes was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in one…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…

WORK WITH US

Work With Us: Research Internship and Editorial Internship

31 OCT 2022

InSight Crime, a think tank dedicated to the study of organized crime and citizen security in the Americas, is seeking interns and investigators to join its dynamic, multinational team.