El Salvador's three main gangs have reportedly joined forces to carry out strategic assassinations against public officials, which if true would mark a troubling development in the gangs' conflict with the state.
The leaders of the three main gangs in El Salvador reportedly met in October and agreed to put their efforts toward targeting high-profile public officials in a "stepped-up war against the system," according to police intelligence obtained by La Prensa Gráfica. Although the report did not specify the identities of the leaders in question, the country's three main groups are considered to be the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and two factions of Barrio 18: Sureños and Revolucionarios.
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The leaders reportedly decided that during the last months of 2016 they would focus on committing attacks and assassinations that would have a "greater social impact," La Prensa Gráfica reported. This apparently includes police, military, prison officials, mayors, congressmen, prosecutors and judges.
The move is reportedly in response to the government's crackdown on gangs, which includes the implementation of so-called "extraordinary measures" which restrict incarcerated gang members' interaction with the outside world.
Police investigations revealed that gang members may already be moving to increase targeted attacks in the departments of San Salvador, Cuscatlán and Cabañas, where they have been tracking police and military agents during their days off, La Prensa Gráfica reported.
Rural training areas have also been detected in these departments, where at least 30 gang members have gathered to learn military tactics such as how to use assault rifles and hand grenades, the report adds. The instructors are reportedly former military officials.
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These reported developments, if true, are further indication that the gangs are increasing their coordination in order to carry out attacks against state agents. News of the gangs' joint "war against the system" comes only weeks after El Diario de Hoy reported that MS13 leaders planned on setting up a 500-man elite unit. The last phase of that plan, which was never realized, reportedly involved deploying the elite unit to attack public and private institutions in a high-intensity armed conflict.
As with the recent report, the plan to fund an elite unit was apparently in response to the government's repressive policies targeting the gangs. Since President Salvador Sánchez Céren took office in 2014, the Salvadoran government has bolstered the armed fight against gangs and has also used judicial tools at its disposal, such as classifying the gangs as terrorist organizations.
There is no doubt that police officers are already a frequent target of El Salvador's gangs. Whether all three gangs would be capable of coordinating a campaign against the state is less certain. But it's not too hard to imagine, given the gangs' seeming ability to bring down the national murder rate on multiple occasions.