US law enforcement officials have arrested 56 alleged members of the MS13 street gang in Boston, reviving speculation surrounding the nature of the relationships between the gang's US-based cliques and imprisoned leadership in El Salvador.
According to a US Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, on January 29 over 400 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers carried out the arrests of the alleged MS13 members and associates in the Boston area.
The 56 individuals have been indicted on federal racketeering conspiracy charges, including charges related to murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, and drug trafficking. Some of the defendants have also been charged with firearm and immigration violations. Of those indicted, 15 were already in custody at the time of the arrests.
According to the DOJ, the Massachusetts-based MS13 members allegedly sold cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, and committed robberies in order to send money to the MS13's jailed leadership in El Salvador. This money was allegedly used to purchase "weapons, cell phones, shoes, food, and other supplies" for MS13 members in El Salvador.
MS13 members were also allegedly recruiting inside Boston area high schools and had committed murders of rival gang members, specifically targeting the Barrio 18 gang.
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The MS13 is well-established in the United States, having a presence in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to the DOJ. Indeed, 2015 saw a spate of MS13 related murders in the Washington, DC area, which furthered concerns the gang's Salvadoran-based leadership is moving to strengthen links with its US-based "cliques." The MS13 has been in the crosshairs of US authorities since at least 2012, when the Treasury Department designated the gang a transnational criminal organization.
SEE ALSO: MS13 News and Profile
Such concerns are partly fueled by anxieties over the effects El Salvador's 2012 gang truce may have had on the structure of the MS13 and Barrio 18. For instance, El Salvador daily El Diario de Hoy, citing an anonymous defense attorney who participated in a recent trial against nearly 80 alleged gang leaders, reported that the truce increased the gangs' organizational capacity. "[The gangs] say they had a disorganized structure, but they reorganized thanks to the relationship they had with the [truce] negotiators," the newspaper's source claims. This reorganization was allegedly facilitated by benefits such as 300 cell phones truce negotiators distributed to gang members throughout El Salvador's prison system.
Nonetheless, the MS13 and Barrio 18 retain a horizontal leadership structure, and these gangs are best understood as networks of loosely affiliated franchises. While the MS13 in El Salvador likely does have contact with its Boston members, the extent or strength of these links remains unclear.