Federal authorities announced terrorism charges Wednesday against a leader of MS-13, continuing a nationwide crackdown against a notorious street gang that President Donald Trump has described as “vile and evil.”
An indictment unsealed in Virginia against Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz marked the first time the Justice Department has brought terrorism charges against a member of MS-13.
Attorney General William Barr described Diaz as “the person who would green-light assassinations” for the gang in the United States.
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“In 2017, the President directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” Barr said in a statement Wednesday. “In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for murder. Joint Task Force Vulcan’s operations have significantly degraded MS-13’s capabilities.
“While there is still work to be done, the Department of Justice remains committed to protecting Americans threatened by MS-13, and we will not rest until we have successfully defeated this transnational criminal organization.”
It was not immediately clear whether Diaz had a defense attorney who could comment on the charges.
Prosecutors also said they would seek the death penalty against Alexi Saenz, another MS-13 leader on Long Island, New York, charged in seven killings, including those of two high school students slain with a machete and a baseball bat.
A lawyer for Saenz declined to comment.
“We believe the monsters who murder children should be put to death,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“We will not allow these animals to terrorize our communities,” the president said. “And my administration will not rest until every member of MS-13 is brought to justice.”
The announcement came a day after grand juries in New York City and Nevada handed up new charges against nearly two dozen MS-13 members, ranging from drug dealing and kidnapping to murder and racketeering.
Barr said the prosecutions are part of the government’s efforts to dismantle a gang he likened to a “death cult.”
Also known as Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 is considered one of the top transnational organized crime threats in the United States.
The organization is unique, Barr said, in that it is driven not by “commercial interests” but by sheer bloodlust.
“It’s about the honor of being the most savage, bloodthirsty person you can be and building up a reputation as a killer,” Barr said.
MS-13 is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador. The gang recruits young teenagers from El Salvador and Honduras, though many gang members were born in the U.S.
“The only way to defeat MS-13 is by targeting the organization as a whole, focusing on the leadership structure and deploying a whole-of-government approach against a common enemy,” said John Durham, a federal prosecutor in New York who directs a special task force targeting the gang.
Trump, who visited Long Island in 2017 to address the gang problem, has blamed the violence and gang growth on lax immigration policies.
The president said Wednesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs has arrested more than 2,000 MS-13 members over the past few years.
“We’ve taken them out by the thousands,” he said.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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