Jos? Luis Tobar Prieto, commissioner of the Policia National Civil of El Salvador
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – The FBI is stationing two agents on permanent assignment in El Salvador to work on what that nation’s police commissioner has described as his country’s worst problem: violent gangs, officials have told WND.
“Hispanic gangs in the United States are part of an international problem,” Brian Truchon, head of the FBI MS-13 Task Force told WND. “We want to lift the cloud so our law enforcement task force members can see the connections that Hispanic gangs like MS-13 in the U.S. have with gang counterparts throughout Latin America and Mexico.”
Truchon’s announcement came at the Third Gang Enforcement Conference 2007 (Tercera Conferencia Antipandillas), where Jose Luis Tobar Prieto, the commissioner of the Policia National Civil of El Salvador, said, “Gangs are the greatest problem we face in El Salvador.”
The conference, WND reported earlier, is focusing on the ultra-violent street gang MS-13, which is causing mayhem in cities and suburbs across the United States and is estimated to be present in 3,500 communities already.
“Law enforcement officers tend to focus locally on individual cases,” Truchon explained. “Our goal here is for the FBI task force members attending to see that intelligence we develop in the United States may need to fit in an international puzzle.”
Truchon told WND that members of Hispanic gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang are mobile, both within the United States and back to their home countries.
“With the Internet and cell phones, the Hispanic gangs are now international gangs,” he continued. “Gangs operate from prison and deportation simply returns the gang member back home, where gang membership just continues.”
Several conference attendees mentioned that Hispanic gang members use MySpace.com to post personal information and brag about their exploits.
“MySpace.com is huge,” Frank Flores, an LAPD detective in the Gang Information Division, told WND. “Gang members have to brag how bad they are. They create rooms in MySpace.com that require passwords, to make it hard for law enforcement to get in.”
The second day of the conference was devoted to presentations by law enforcement officers from countries throughout Latin America to discuss efforts to combat gang activity.
Gang activity in El Salvador began in 1992, at the end of the country’s civil war. The two largest gangs in El Salvador are the Mara Salvatrucha (known in the U.S. as Mara Salvatrucha 13) and the Mara 18 (known in the United States as the 18th Street Gang.
There are some 16,347 known gang members in El Salvador, of whom 11,584 are outside prison. El Salvador has a population of just over 7 million.
Gangs in El Salvador distribute drugs and weapons. They also engage in extortion and theft, including theft of automobiles, Tobar explained.
“Over time, the gangs in El Salvador have become accustomed to using violence,” he stressed.
“The gangs have become more clandestine, not wearing traditional gang clothing,” he explained. “At the same time their criminal activities – drug dealing, extortion, theft – have become more lucrative.”
Tobar told the conference that gang members from El Salvador commonly enter the United States from Baja California or Tijuana.
“We see a great deal of coordination between the gangs in El Salvador and their counterpart gangs in the United States,” Tobar stressed. “The gangs in El Salvador and the United States exchange orders back and forth between the countries as the gangs plan future activities. Gang activity in the U.S. is an extension of the gang activity observed in El Salvador.”
“The gangs often engage in extorting El Salvadoran families in the United States,” he explained, “often threatening to harm the El Salvadoran families the immigrants to the U.S. have left back home in El Salvador.”
Tobar also confirmed that the gangs in El Salvador are international in nature.
“Imprisoning gang members does not stop their gang activity,” Tobar said. “Imprisoned gang members continue to direct gang activities from the prisons. Gang members deported from the United States quickly connect back to gang members in El Salvador.”
“The gangs are expert in communicating,” Tobar told the group. “Gang members deported from the U.S. use the Internet to connect back instantly to gang members they have left behind in the United States.”
Reports from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua documented that violent, criminal Hispanic gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang are operating actively in their countries.
Robert Loosle, FBI special agent in charge in Los Angeles, told the conference that MS-13 is currently operating in 42 states in the United States and the District of Columbia.
Loosle told the group that the 18th Street gang operates in 37 states and 11 countries.
“The 18th Street gang is the largest Hispanic gangs in United States,” Loosle explained. He estimated membership of the 18th Street Gang as between 13,000 – 20,000 gang members, with the largest concentration in Los Angeles.
Deportation is not an effective strategy to combat the Hispanic gangs, Loosle told the group.
“Some gang members have been deported four or five times,” he explained. “Deported gang members return to their gangs back home. They take deportation as an opportunity to go home and learn, before they come back to the United States.”
WND staff writer Jerome Corsi is in El Salvador attending the Third Gang Enforcement Conference for WND, at the invitation of the FBI’s MS-13 Task Force.
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