Authorities in El Salvador say the MS13 is responsible for the eruption of violence against police officers this month, a sure sign that the security forces will scale up their offensive against the gang.
Public Security Minister Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde said that the recent attacks against police officers are in response to "Operación Jaque" (Operation Check), an ongoing investigation that has dismantled the financial structures of top MS13 leaders, reported El Diario de Hoy.
Eight police officers and three soldiers have been killed in the past ten days, according to La Prensa Gráfica. Those figures account for nearly 20 percent of the 64 public security personnel that have been killed so far this year.
Attorney General Douglas Meléndez said that his office "has some information" that incarcerated MS13 leaders are ordering the attacks, reported El Mundo. He added that "they are using various mechanisms" to spread their message, including via "word of mouth in the corridors."
"We are definitely worried," Meléndez said. "I believe they are doing these attacks in order to intimidate, to lower the morale of the police."
Local media first reported in early November that the MS13 and two rival factions of the Barrio 18 gang were planning a "stepped-up war against the system." A few days later, Meléndez said that prosecutors were investigating potential gang attacks against security and judicial officials.
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The escalating conflict between El Salvador's gangs and its security forces is reaching new levels of hostility. Authorities have already retaliated to the latest attacks by sending 30 gang members they say are responsible to the maximum-security prison known as Zacatraz, where they will be kept in isolation. But threatening declarations from the heads of the country's security institutions suggest the worst is yet to come.
"[The MS13] is going to discover that its attempt to neutralize state action against crime by way of assasinating members of the police and armed forces is the worst decision it could have made," said National Police chief Howard Cotto. Ramírez Landaverde echoed that statement by saying that the gang was about to begin experiencing "its worst moment."
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This situation certainly does not augur well for respect for human rights among the security forces, a perennial concern in El Salvador. Police killed nearly 700 suspected gang members between January 2015 and August 2016, an average of more than one per day. With gang killings of police officers on the rise, it would hardly be surprsing if the security forces respond in kind.