WASHINGTON – A reputed gang leader suspected of masterminding a bus massacre in Honduras that killed 28 people was arrested this month in Texas, U.S. and Honduran officials said Wednesday.
Authorities described the man, Ever Anibal Rivera Paz, known as "El Culiche" — The Tapeworm — as the leader of the Mara Salvatrucha (search), or MS-13, gang in Honduras.
The violent Central American gang has members in the United States, and U.S. officials are concerned that they might help sneak Al Qaeda terrorists into the country.
Rivera Paz was arrested Feb. 10 by the Texas highway patrol about 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border. He was turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol (search) for processing.
Rivera Paz, who uses the alias Franklin Jairo Rivera-Hernandez, remains in federal custody, the Homeland Security Department (search) said in a statement Wednesday.
In Tegucigalpa, Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez described Paz Rivera as the Mara Salvatrucha leader.
"He has an extensive criminal record in the United States and Honduras, and he was arrested more than six times in the 1990s," Alvarez said.
Alvarez said Rivera Paz, 26, had been under arrest on charges of masterminding the massacre of bus passengers in San Pedro Sula, about 125 miles north of the Honduras capital, Tegucigalpa, last Dec. 23. He escaped from a prison near the capital on Jan. 23, Alvarez said.
The bus was filled with workers returning home and Christmas shoppers when armed gunmen cut it off and fired on it and inside the bus. Six children died in the attack.
The gunmen claimed in a message left on the bus' windshield that they were part of a previously unknown revolutionary group opposed to the death penalty. Executions were stopped in the 1950s.
A reward of $10,000 was being offered for the capture of Rivera Paz and fellow gang leader Alvaro "El Snoopy" Acosta, 27, who escaped with Rivera.
"They are dangerous Mara members, capable of committing any kind of cold-blooded crime," Alvarez said.
Rivera Paz gave a false name, but his tattoos suggested he was an MS-13 gang member. Checks of Homeland Security databases turned up some national alerts, including one from U.S. Border Patrol agents in Honduras who had warned Rivera Paz might be trying to enter the country, Border Patrol spokesman Salvador Zamora said.
The arrest comes as law enforcement officials from the United States and Central America are meeting in San Salvador to discuss ways to keep the gang from extending its influence.
James Loy (search), deputy Homeland Security secretary told Congress last week there was growing intelligence suggesting Al Qaeda was considering entering the United States across the Mexican border, although he had nothing conclusive. He said that in addition to Al Qaeda, "we are seeing the emergence of other threatening groups and gangs like MS-13 that will also be destabilizing influences."