Police say a now dismantled cell of the MS13 in Spain was led by Salvadorans sent to set up a local branch of the notorious street gang, which if true would be confirmation the El Salvador mara is looking to establish European operations connected to their Latin American ones.
According to La Vanguardia, 300 Spanish national police arrested 35 members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) spread throughout the central and eastern provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, Alicante and Madrid on March 24.
El Pais reported that the gang members were directed by two Salvadoran men aged around 40, one of whom operated in the port city of Alicante and the other in Barcelona. The gang was dedicated mainly to robbery and drug trafficking, but also tried to open restaurants and bars to launder money from the gang's Salvadoran operations, anonymous sources from the security forces told the newspaper.
SEE ALSO: MS13 Profile
The other members arrested were from various countries -- not only Spain, but Romania, Bulgaria, and Morocco, as well as Honduras and Ecuador. They are accused of robbery, intimidation and assault, among other crimes.
According to police, the operation, called "Cruasan" (Croissant), was the result of an investigation that began in 2012 after it was discovered the stabbing of a young man was connected to a fight between rival gangs.
InSight Crime Analysis
There have been indications of gangs operating in Europe under the names of Latin American street gangs, particularly the MS13 and their rivals Barrio 18, for some time. However, until now there has been a lack of evidence to suggest they were more than copy-cat operations or that they maintained any significant links with their counterparts in El Salvador (or other countries where these gangs are present).
If the claims of the Spanish authorities prove true, and this cell was led by Salvadorans who arrived in Spain specifically to set up a local MS13 branch that coordinated criminal operations with the Salvadoran MS13, then this is a worrying development. Not only would it mean the gangs are looking to establish a real presence in Europe, but it would also be an indicator of growing transnational sophistication.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime
The question remains why the MS13 would look to gain a foothold in Europe. The main purpose of the operation appears to have been money laundering, and although Spain has well-established money laundering networks linked to the transnational drug trade, the dollarized economy and high levels of corruption in El Salvador would appear to make it a far more attractive criminal proposition.