San Salvador – Nearly 100 suspected gang members accused of homicide and illicit association have been arrested in El Salvador, police and prosecutors said.
The 92 suspects were detained between Monday and Tuesday morning in the central province of La Paz and in San Martin, a town in the west-central province of San Salvador, the National Civil Police's deputy director of investigations, Howard Cotto, told Efe.
Those arrests brought to 134 the number of purported members of violent youth gangs, known as "maras," arrested in El Salvador since last week in different joint operations by police and the Attorney General's Office, he said.
"We hadn't carried out an operation on that scale thus far this year," Cotto said, referring to Monday night's sting, in which authorities conducted 85 raids in La Paz and 65 in San Martin.
He said the raids in La Paz "struck a blow to" two Mara 18 structures, while those in San Martin targeted structures of the rival Mara Salvatrucha.
Those street gangs, which are currently engaged in a turf war, are considered El Salvador's two biggest and authorities say they are primarily responsible for a string of murders and acts of extortion in recent years.
For his part, prosecutor Noel Soto described the operation, which also led to the confiscation of a G3 rifle and a 9mm pistol, as a "positive" development.
Mara Salvatrucha is a criminal organization that evolved on the streets of Los Angeles during the 1980s, with most of its members young Salvadorans whose parents fled their nation's erstwhile civil war for the United States.
Because many of the gang members were born in El Salvador, they were subject to deportation when rounded up during immigration crackdowns in California in the 1990s.
Sent "home" to a land they barely knew, they formed gangs that spread throughout El Salvador and to neighboring countries in Central America, where membership is now counted in the tens, or even hundreds of thousands, and gang members are engaged in murder, drug dealing, kidnapping and people smuggling.
In addition to those activities, gang members are blamed throughout Central America for a spike in rapes and robberies, and for running protection rackets to extort "taxes" from bus companies and owners of small businesses.
Police estimate that some 10,000 gang members, most of them affiliated either with Mara 18 or Mara Salvatrucha, operate in El Salvador.