The recent massacre of 10 alleged gang members by men dressed as security forces raises the possibility of death squads in El Salvador, adding confusion to an already murky and violent security situation.
The alleged gang members were killed in two incidents that occurred in rural areas in the southeastern province of Usulutan on May 10, reported La Prensa Grafica.
In the first incident, a witness said they saw men dressed in what appeared to be police and army uniforms, marching in an organized fashion towards the site where the killings took place. The uniformed men allegedly ordered seven victims out of two different houses and executed them in a nearby street with shots to the head and chest. Among the dead was an alleged gang member wanted for murder.
The mother of one of the victims said her son and others had gathered in one of the houses to celebrate Mother's Day, but police said they had been informed that the group was gathering to plan robberies and extortions, reported La Prensa Grafica.
The second incident -- in which two teenagers and a 21-year-old man were killed -- occurred near a town about an hour away. All three were reportedly suspected gang members as well. The perpetrators of the crime were allegedly dressed in black clothes and ski masks, reported elsalvador.com.
In public statements, El Salvador's police and armed forces dismissed the possibility that their personnel were involved, stating that they did not have operatives in the area at the time of the killings.
InSight Crime Analysis
The confusion surrounding the recent killings illustrates just how murky El Salvador's security situation has become. On the one hand, the idea that Salvadoran security forces could be involved in the murders is plausible given the historic use of death squads during the country's civil war, reports that El Salvador's powerful street gangs have launched police assassination campaigns, and increasingly violent rhetoric from security officials. On the other hand, Salvadoran gangs have been known to wear counterfeit uniforms, which authorities claim they use to disguise themselves in order to assassinate rivals and carry out other crimes. There have been several recent cases in which police have seized uniforms from gang members.
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What is certain is that the violence and chaos have made it extremely difficult to determine who is carrying out these types of crimes. So far this year, 119 people have been killed in 29 massacres in El Salvador, up from 16 massacres in 2014, according to La Prensa Grafica. In light of the confusion surrounding these incidents, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren's recently announced plan to deploy elite army units to combat crime is particularly concerning. Similar militarization of citizen security in Mexico have been liked to a rise in human rights abuses -- a scenario that could be replicated in El Salvador.