The US has brought terrorism charges against 14 leaders of the international criminal gang MS-13, the Department of Justice said on Thursday.
The charges are part of an intensified crackdown on the violent group by US law enforcement.
Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s. The gang was set up to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other gangs in the LA area. Over time, the gang grew into a more traditional criminal organisation.
Many MS-13 members were deported to El Salvador after the close of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992. The gang is currently active in many parts of the US, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Most members are Central American, Salvadorans in particular.
The indictment, filed in New York on Thursday, charges the 14 individuals with conspiracies to support terrorists, commit acts of terrorism and finance terrorism.
“The indictment announced today is the highest-reaching and most sweeping indictment targeting MS-13 and its command-and-control structure in US history,” acting Attorney-General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement.
The department said that Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, considered the most powerful member of the highest level of MS-13 leadership, as well as 10 other people were in custody in El Salvador. The US would “explore options for their extradition”, it said.
However, three of the defendants, Fredy Ivan Jandres-Parada, Cesar Humberto Lopez-Larios and Hugo Armando Quinteros-Mineros remain at large and should be considered armed and dangerous.
The FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations have offered US$20,000 in rewards for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the three fugitives.
The activities of the gang’s US membership of up to 10,000 are often used by anti-immigration groups to advocate for stricter immigration controls into the US.
President Donald Trump has previously linked the fight against the gang with his campaign against illegal immigration.
Critics of his administration’s tactics argue that the crackdown has also unlawfully detained immigrant teens innocent of gang affiliation.