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MS-13 I.jpg
A less often mentioned association of Mara Salvatrucha is with Amerindian-inspired death cults and occultism.[1][2] Another less politically correct association is with illegal immigrant ("unaccompanied") minors.
Years active 1980s–present
Territory North America,
Central America
Ethnicity Mostly Central Americans
Membership 50,000–70,000 (global)
8,000–10,000 (United States)
Criminal activities Drug trafficking, robbery, Larceny, extortion, human trafficking, illegal immigration, money laundering, murder, rape, pandering, racketeering, assault, kidnapping, arms trafficking
  • Los Zetas
  • Sinaloa Cartel
  • Jalisco New Generation Cartel
  • Gulf Cartel
  • Mexican Mafia
  • Sureños and affiliated gangs
  • 18th Street Gang
  • Border Brothers
  • Latin Kings
  • Bloods
  • Norteños and affiliated gangs

Mara Salvatrucha refers to large gangs in Central America and the United States. The gang names are commonly abbreviated as MS[3], Mara, and MS-13, and are composed mostly of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and other Central Americans. The Mara Salvatrucha gangs have cliques, or factions, located throughout the United States and Latin America.

The gang has moved beyond its Salvadoran and American origins and now can be found in other nations, including Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Spain, Great Britain and Germany, according to international press on criminal activity. Membership in the U.S was believed to be as many as 10,000 in the United States as of 2005.[4] MS-13 criminal activities include drug smuggling and sales, black market gun sales, human trafficking, theft, assaults on law enforcement officials, and contract killing.[5]

Their activities have caught the eye of the FBI, who in September 2005 initiated wide-scale raids against suspected gang members, netting 660 arrests across the country.[6] In the United States, the gang's strongholds have historically been in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.. In Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and other areas of Pennsylvania, the gang is known for its street graffiti, which is used to depict their presence on certain blocks and also sometimes provides clues to their forthcoming crimes, including murder, robbery, narcotics, and especially as a prediction of retaliatory violence.


The Mara Salvatrucha gang grew out of the Salvadoran immigrant community in Westlake, Los Angeles in the 1980's.[7] There is some dispute about the etymology of the name (see below: Etymology). The most common belief is that the word "Mara" refers to the Spanish word for "gang", and it is suggested that "Salvatrucha" refers to the Salvadoran guerrillas, the source of much of the gang's early manpower.

Originally, the gang's main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominately comprised of Mexicans and Blacks.[8] For this reason, the gang initially allowed only Salvadorans to join, but later allowed other Central Americans to join as well.

Many Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the Los Angeles area have been deported either because of their illegal status in the United States, or for committing crimes as non-citizens, or both. As a result of these deportations, members of MS-13 have recruited more members in their home countries. The Los Angeles Times contends that deportation policies have contributed to the size and influence of the gang both in the United States and in Central America. Salvadoran authorities report that approximately 60 % of prison inmates serving prison terms for gang-related crimes there have either fled prosecution or been deported from the United States.[9]

Publicized crimes

On July 23, 2003, Brenda Paz, a 17-year old female, was found murdered on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Virginia. Brenda Paz was killed for "snitching" or telling the police about Mara Salvatrucha activities. Four of her friends were later convicted of the murder.[10]

On December 23, 2004, one of the most widely publicized MS-13 crimes in Central America happened in Chamelecón, Honduras. An intercity bus was intercepted and sprayed with automatic gunfire, killing 28 passengers most of whom were women and children. [11] In February 2007 the courts found Juan Carlos Miranda Bueso and Darwin Alexis Ramírez guilty of several crimes including murder and attempted murder. Ebert Anibal Rivera was held over the attack and was arrested in Texas after having fled [12]. Juan Bautista Jimenez, accused of masterminding the attack, was killed in prison. According to the authorities, he was hanged by fellow MS-13 inmates.

On 13 May 2006, Ernesto "Smokey" Miranda was murdered at his home in El Salvador, a few hours after declining to attend a party for a gang member who had just been released from prison. He had begun studying law and working to keep children out of gangs. He was an ex-high ranking soldier and one of the founders of the Mara Salvatrucha.[13]

On 4 June 2008, in Toronto, Ontario police executed 22 search warrants, made 17 arrests and laid 63 charges following a five-month investigation.[14]

Illegal immigration and human smuggling

According to The Washington Times, MS-13 "is thought to have established a major smuggling center" in Mexico.[15] There were reports that MS-13 members were ordered to Arizona to target border guards and Minuteman Project volunteers.[16][17].

In 2005, Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez and the President of El Salvador raised alarm by claiming that Al-Qaeda was meeting with MS-13 and other Central American gangs to help them infiltrate the United States. FBI agent Robert Clifford said that the U.S. intelligence community and governments of several Central American countries found there is no basis to believe that MS-13 is connected to Al-Qaeda or other Islamic radicals although he did visit Central America to discuss the issue.[18]

Robert Morales, a prosecutor for Guatemala, indicated to The Globe and Mail that some Central American gang members seek refugee status in Canada. Superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police integrated gang task force, John Robin, said in an interview that "I think [gang members] have a feeling that police here won't treat them in the harsh manner they get down there".[19] Robin noted that Canadian authorities "want to avoid ending up like the U.S., which is dealing with the problem of Central American gangsters on a much bigger scale".[19]


There are various possible explanations for the name Mara Salvatrucha. Some sources state the gang is named for La Mara, a street in San Salvador, and the Salvatrucha guerrillas who fought in El Salvador's bloody civil war [20]. Additionally, the word mara means gang in Caliche and is taken from marabunta, the name of a fierce type of ant. "Salvatrucha" is a portmanteau of Salvadoran and trucha, a Caliche word for being alert, usually entailing preparedness for crime or abuse from police.

Gang markings and hand signs

Many Mara Salvatrucha members cover themselves in tattoos. Common markings include "MS", "Salvatrucha" the "Devil Horns" the name of their clique and other symbols.[21] A December 2007 CNN internet news article stated that the gang was moving away from the tattoos in an attempt to commit crimes without being noticed. [22]

Members of Mara Salvatrucha, like members of most modern American gangs, utilize a system of hand signs for purposes of identification and communication. One of the most commonly displayed is the "devil's head" (formed by extending the index and little fingers of the hand while tucking in the middle and ring fingers with the thumb), which forms an M when displayed upside down. This hand sign is similar to the same symbol commonly seen displayed by heavy metal musicians and their fans. Founders of Mara Salvatrucha borrowed the hand sign after attending concerts of Black Sabbath and other heavy metal bands they liked.[23]

MS-13 II.jpg

See also

External links

Article archives


  1. An Aztec death cult is the fastest-growing religion in the Americas
  2. MS-13 Links to Occult Rituals and Santa Muerte Veneration
  3. "The Fight Against MS-13." _CBC News_. 04-12-2005. 60 Minutes. Accessed 14-11-2007. p.1 Note: See before last paragraph. The expression "MS" appears within this article as a term used by Brenda Paz. She says "...the three places MS will lead you – jail, hospital or the cemetery,..." and makes reference to the gang MS-13. This reference may be a violation of WP:SYNT.
  4. 'MS-13' gang threatens nation's security - Rita Cosby Specials -
  5. "Marijuana - Virginia Drug Threat Assessment". Drug Intelligence Center (March 2002).
  6. Rather, Dan (2005-12-04)."The Fight Against MS-13". CBS News. Retrieved 2006-11-16.
  7. The International Reach of the Mara Salvatrucha : NPR
  8. [1]
  9. Lopez, Robert J.; Rich Connell and Chris Kraul (October 30, 2005). "Gang Uses Deportation to its Advantage to Flourish in the U.S.". Los Angeles Times.,0,6717943.story?coll=la-home-headlines. Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  10. Bradley, Paul (2005-04-10). "[2]".Potomac News Online. Retrieved 2007-03-05.
  11. BBC NEWS | Americas | Gang linked to Honduras massacre
  12. BBC NEWS | Americas | Honduras massacre 'leader' held
  13. del Barco, Mandalit (2006-05-16). "Gang Leader Shot to Death on Road to Reform". NPR News. Retrieved 2006-11-15.
  14. cbcnews -
  17. Report: MS-13 gang hired to murder Border Patrol -
  18. Danna Harman (2/23/2005). U.S. steps up battle against Salvadoran gang MS-13. USA Today. Retrieved on 2007-11-13. “"The FBI, in concert with the U.S. intelligence community and governments of several Central American republics, have determined that there is no basis in fact to support this allegation of al-Qaeda or even radical Islamic ties to MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha)," says Robert Clifford, director of the new task force.”
  19. 19.0 19.1 Mason, Gary (2008-01-07). Canada is a haven to gangsters on the run. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved on 2008-01-07.
  20. America's Most Dangerous Gang
  21. Werner, Zach (2005-10-05). "FBI Targets MS-13 Street Gang". NewsHour Extra. Retrieved 2006-12-11.
  22. "[3]"