Police in Italy have dismantled a gang identifying itself as part of the MS13, in a sign Central American gangs may be expanding their influence, and possibly their presence, in Europe.
The October 8 operation carried out in Milan saw 25 people detained, among them seven minors, after an investigation into two attempted murders in 2011, reported La Repubblica.
The group identified itself as part of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) street gang and had contact with the main organization in El Salvador, reported Corriere Della Sera. However, the same report also says the gang was "independent."
Among those detained were gang leader Josue Gerardo Isaac Flores Soto, alias "Kamikaze," who La Repubblica said maintained a "manual," including the gang's guidelines and financial accounts. The members were charged with conspiracy, robbery, assault and illegal weapons possession, reported La Prensa Grafica.
According to Cronaca Milano, there are 2,500 affiliates to at least 15 Latin American-inspired gangs in Milan, of which the MS13 and the Latin Kings are the most high profile.
InSight Crime Analysis
The dismantling of this gang comes just months after reports emerged of maras establishing a presence in Spain, where the government claimed cells of the MS13 and Barrio 18 based in the peninsula are in contact with the organization in both El Salvador and Honduras. Whether the Milan gang was genuinely affiliated with the MS13 in Central America, or simply inspired by it, remains unclear. Regardless of the strength of the link, this case highlights the growing influence of Central American gangs in Europe.
There is reason to worry. The history of the maras is one of migration. Having originally emerged among Central American migrants who were later imprisoned in the United States, the core leadership of these organizations shifted to the isthmus when many of those convicts were deported upon release from jail.
The gangs present a significant threat to stability in Central America. Estimates of how many gang members there vary, but the Salvadoran government says it has about 65,000 members in El Salvador alone. They are responsible for thousands of homicides per year (a gang truce in El Salvador initiated in March 2012 saw the country's homicide fall drastically).
SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Salvador's Gang Truce
While the influence of the maras in Europe remains much less profound, their involvement in street crime is troubling to authorities. The Spanish government report expressed fear mara gangs could capitalize on the weak economic situation to expand their influence. With Italy also facing economic difficulties, authorities there are likely to have similar concerns.