Gangs declared terrorist groups

Authorities in El Salvador have been battling street gangs—including the notorious MS-13 and 18th Street gangs—for years, and a relatively recent strategy includes declaring those street gangs as terrorists and prosecuting those who do business with them as terrorist financiers.

According to a recent AP story, authorities there have been using the Special Law Against Terrorist Acts to engage in wire taps, the freezing of assets, and so on. Opponents have tried to overturn the law as unconstitutional, but so far have been unsuccessful. And earlier this week, the nation’s supreme court affirmed that El Salvador’s street gangs may in fact be declared terrorist groups and that those who finance them are financers of terror.

This legal affirmation of the terrorist designation allows the state to sentence convicted gang members to longer and more stringent sentences, and it allows more latitude in prosecuting individuals who support gang members.

Prisons in El Salvador have experienced a spike recently in gang-on-gang attacks and power consolidations. On Monday, 14 members of the 18th Street gang were murdered inside a prison in western El Salvador, allegedly in a purge within the gang ordered by members in a different prison.

The government had brokered a truce between gangs earlier this decade, but that truce has crumbled, according to the BBC. And some claim that the truce time gave gangs the opportunity to strengthen rather than dissipate. And now, much of the violence is directed at authorities, who face approximately 70,000 active gang members. Former FMLN leader Raul Mijango asserts that approximately 11 percent of the population of El Salvador is involved in gang activity, either directly or through business/finance dealings.

Both MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs originated in Los Angeles, California, and have since spread to various locations in Central and North America.


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