Some of the immigrants had once belonged to groups such as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and were trained as guerilla fighters. These Salvadoran guerrillas were known as "Salvatruchas." Here in the United States, as a result of prejudice of Hispanic gangs, they formed the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) gang. They quickly achieved recognition for their violence and sophistication. The gang, commonly referred to as MS-13, enforces an extensive hierarchy. Each local gang is divided into "cliques," which are further divided into smaller groups. Members range from 12-year-olds to adults. MS now includes members from Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. Common identifiers include number "13," and also Sureno, a Spanish word meaning Southerner. Other marks include "M" or MS," or "Salvadorian Pride. Members often make the hand sign of the letter "M." The gang is active in Central America, the United States, Mexico and Canada. Since its inception in California and Washington, DC, Mara Salvatrucha members continues to plague many American cities. Many MS members continue to have close connections with El Salvador. Mara Salvatrucha gang members are known to be involved in all aspects of criminal activity. Because of their ties to their former homeland, they have access to sophisticated military weapons thus making firearms trafficking one of their main criminal enterprises. Other law enforcement agencies have reported MS members were exporting stolen cars to South America. As with nearly all-street gangs, the MS is also involved in drug sales, murder and other common gang crimes.
Composed of mostly Salvadorans and other Central Americans many of them undocumented the gang has a uniquely international profile, with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 members in 33 states in the United States (out of more than 700,000 gang members overall), and tens of thousands more in Central America. It's considered the fastest growing, most violent and least understood of the nation's street gangs in part because U.S. law enforcement has not been watching as closely as it might have. As authorities have focused their attention on the war against terrorism, MS-13 has proliferated. In the FBI's D.C. field office, the number of agents dedicated to gang investigations declined by 50 percent. "There was a definite shift in resources post-9/11 toward terrorism," says Michael Mason, assistant director in charge of that office. In recent weeks, authorities have made strides against MS-13: a gang leader accused of orchestrating a December bus bombing in Honduras that killed 28 people was arrested in Texas in February, and a recent seven-city sweep by ICE netted more than 100 reputed MS-13 members. But Robert Clifford, head of the new national task force, says, "no single law-enforcement action is really going to deal the type of blow" necessary to dismantle the gang. No one is more interested in busting up MS-13 than leaders of the Latino community, who live with the fear and fallout of the gang's savage actions. (Newsweek, 2005)
Flush with new recruits from Central America,