The US federal prosecutor’s office on Thursday announced charges against more than a dozen alleged leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha, whom it accused of directing criminal activities including murders in the United States, El Salvador or Mexico, among other countries, in the last two decades.
The indictment filed by the Department of Justice in the Eastern District of New York details the charges against the 13 defendants as conspiracy to extort money, conspiracy to offer or conceal material support to terrorists, and narco-terrorist conspiracy.
Four of the alleged Mara Salvatrucha leaders were expelled from Mexico and arrested by the FBI at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday, the department said in a statement.
They face additional charges including conspiracy to smuggle people resulting in death and, if convicted, could be sentenced to death, prosecutors said.
Of the rest of the list, four are fugitives and the rest are believed to be in custody in El Salvador awaiting possible extradition, the statement added.
The 13 defendants are part of the gang’s command structure and perform important leadership roles in the organization’s international operations, according to the court document.
According to the prosecution, they authorized and directed violent acts, including several murders in the United States and Mexico, among other places, as part of an effort to expand the influence of the gang, also known as MS-13, and its territorial control.
In El Salvador, the alleged gang leaders operated military-style training camps for firearms and explosives, the indictment adds.
“The defendants have actively participated in public displays of violence to threaten and intimidate the civilian population, to obtain and control territory, and to manipulate the electoral process in El Salvador,” the Justice Department statement said.
The Mara Salvatrucha is suspected of forging alliances with Mexican drug cartels and is engaged in drug trafficking, smuggling and extortion of migrants, kidnapping and arms trafficking, according to the indictment.