LOS ANGELES – More than two dozen members of the international street gang MS-13 were arrested Thursday in a multistate sweep, authorities said — the latest effort to disrupt what has been called one of the United States' most dangerous and organized gangs.
"We basically turned a blowtorch on them this morning. Their operation is in disarray," said Peter Brust, acting assistant director for the FBI's Los Angeles field office.
Twenty-six reputed gang members and associates were taken into custody on federal or state charges, most of them in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
MS-13, whose initials stand for "Mara Salvatrucha," was founded in Los Angeles in the late 1970s by immigrants — some with paramilitary training — who fled the civil war in El Salvador. It now has an estimated 10,000 members in 33 states and Washington, D.C., with tens of thousands more in Latin America. Officials have linked MS-13 members to drug and human smuggling, along with murders and other crimes.
The gang has a reputation for ruthlessness, including the use of machetes to dismember enemies.
The charges against the 26 arrested range from illegal re-entry into the United States to drug and weapons charges.
Among those arrested was Oscar Chacon, 29, whom authorities described as a ringleader of an MS-13 faction in Los Angeles. He had been deported to El Salvador but returned illegally, authorities said.
He was booked on a federal charge of conspiring to traffic in drugs related to a series of methamphetamine deals, Mrozek said. If convicted he could face 10 years to life in prison.
It was not immediately clear whether Chacon had an attorney.
At least six other suspects remained at large, Brust said.
U.S. officials have been conducting raids against MS-13 for two years, making hundreds of arrests.