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103 held in US gang crackdown

March 15, 2005 15:50 IST
US immigration officials smashed a huge criminal gang involved in murders and trafficking of people, arresting 103 of its members.

In a national sweep aimed at disrupting the fast-growing Latino gang 'Mara Salvatrucha', the authorities filed charges against 103 of its alleged members, one-third of them from the Washington area, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Michael J. Garcia announced yesterday.

Police and politicians in the Washington area have become alarmed by the growth of Mara Salvatrucha, known as MS-13. Local officials say it appears to be the most violent of the Latino gangs that have committed 11 slayings in Northern Virginia since 2000.

While admitting the arrests affected only a sliver of Mara Salvatrucha's membership, Garcia pledged many more would be locked up.

"This is the beginning. We will target our resources at the leaders but we're going after all the members," he told a news conference. The initiative, which is being coordinated with police and other law enforcement agencies, will soon expand to include members of other gangs, many of whom are illegal immigrants.

Garcia said the federal government also has become concerned that the group could be a homeland security risk, noting that it is believed to be involved in smuggling people into the United States.

"If you have a large-scale criminal organization operating in the United States, one that is reported to be smuggling contraband, smuggling people, exploiting border vulnerabilities, you have to accept that as a homeland security risk,"  he said.

The anti-gang initiative, known as 'Operation Community Shield', focused on the Washington and Baltimore areas as well as New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Newark.

Most of the arrests took place over the last three weeks.


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