263 arrested in gang sweep targeting MS-13

263 arrested in gang sweep: Of the 263 gang members arrested in the nationwide sweep by ICE, 60 percent were MS-13 members.

REUTERS/Ulises Rodriguez
A member of the Mara Salvatrucha MS 13 poses in El Salvador last month. Members of the 18th Street gang and the Mara Salvatrucha MS 13 signed a truce as part of a nationwide effort to reduce crime, according to local media. The tattoos over his eyes read "Mara X3" and "For life".

The US government is beefing up efforts to undermine the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a multinational street gang.

On Friday, the Homeland Security Investigations unit of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced that it had arrested 361 people in July and August during a nationwide sweep targeting members of MS-13.

Of the 361 arrests, 263 were gang members and associates from 43 different gangs in 71 US cities. Of the 98 others caught during the operation, 84 were non-gang members wanted on criminal charges and 14 were arrested for immigration violations. Out of the 263 gang members arrested, 60 percent were MS-13.

The operation, dubbed "Project Razor's Edge," was conducted from July 15 to Aug. 9. The stated intent of the operation was "to combat the national security and public safety threats posed by MS-13 gang members and associates and to ultimately identify, target, arrest, and prosecute MS-13 gang members and associates as well as their rival gangs," according to a statement by ICE.

"Operations like these are especially rewarding for the men and women of HSI as they know firsthand that they're playing a critical role in community safety," said HSI Executive Associate Director James Dinkins.

Last fall, for the first time in US history, the US Treasury designated a street gang – MS-13 – as a transnational criminal organization, which gave officials more tools to more aggressively target the group, which engages in the drug, sex, and human trafficking trades.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time, "naming the gang a transnational criminal organization suggests how the group has evolved from being primarily a criminal element in Central American immigrant communities to a regional organized crime network delving into a range of illegal markets, experts in North and Central American crime patterns say.  "

MS-13 has more than 30,000 members with branches operating in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, according to the Treasury.

At least 8,000 MS-13 members – often identified by elaborate tattoos that incorporate the gang’s name – operate in 40 states and the District of Columbia, Treasury officials say.

Project Razor's Edge included the arrest of four MS-13 gang leaders. Since 2005, Homeland Security Investigations reports that it has arrested more than 30,672 street gang members, including 4,265 MS-13 gang members or associates.

Separately, a MS-13 gang leader was sentenced Thursday to two consecutive life terms after being convicted of murder, maiming, and conspiracy in Virginia.

The Associated Press reports that a jury found Jose Armando Bran guilty of ordering the slaying of Osbin Noel Hernandez-Gonzales, who was fatally shot in Richmond, Va., in July 2011. Bran also was convicted of ordering the January 2012 maiming of Florentino Ayala, who was stabbed 15 times but survived.

The teens who carried out the attacks also were convicted and were previously sentenced to 34 years and 18 years in prison.

In a sentencing memorandum in the Bran case, last month, prosecutors wrote: “Individuals who would consider joining or aiding MS-13 and members and associates of MS-13 must be deterred. MS-13 is a nihilistic gang that encourages and celebrates violence."

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