Six MS-13 members facing murder, conspiracy charges, authorities say

Six alleged members of the violent street gang MS-13 were indicted in Maryland this week on charges of murder, conspiracy and racketeering.

The cases brought against the unidentified defendants, ages 19 to 22, were among the latest being pursued against a Central America-linked group that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last year was a "priority" for the Department of Justice's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

The defendants, all living in Annapolis, were detained on federal or state criminal charges and their initial court appearances have not yet taken place, according to prosecutors. Their immigration status was not immediately clear.

The latest indictments come roughly two weeks after a MS-13 member from another Maryland community was convicted in a federal racketeering conspiracy.

Raul Ernesto Landaverde Giron of Silver Spring, just outside Washington D.C., was found guilty of murder in aid of racketeering and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

People arrested this week for being members of the MS-13 Mara Salvatrucha street gang among other crimes, flash their gang's hand sign from inside a jail cell at a police station in San Salvador October 12, 2012. The U.S. on Thursday imposed financial penalties on violent Latin American street gang MS-13, which has thousands of members operating in the U.S. and has been accused of human trafficking, kidnapping, murder, rape and other criminal activities. MS-13, whose U.S. members are mostly first-generation Salvadorean-Americans or Salvadorean nationals, was added to the Obama administration's list of transnational criminal organizations - a label designed to cripple a criminal group's finances.   REUTERS/Ulises Rodriguez (El SALVADOR - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW) - GM1E8AD0V8101

MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha, is believed by federal prosecutors to have thousands of members nationwide.

Following that conviction, Sessions said Maryland has "suffered terribly" because of the "uniquely barbaric" gang's criminal activities.

In charges announced Thursday, Juan Carlos Sandoval Rodriguez, 20, is accused of luring a victim to a park in Annapolis, where he and other alleged MS-13 members and associates murdered him. Prosecutors believe the March 2016 killing was motivated by a desire to enhance or maintain rank within the gang or gain status as a member.

In October 2016, four defendants allegedly attempted to murder two others in Annapolis, largely by stabbing the victims repeatedly.

That designation of MS-13 as a “priority” for federal officials directs prosecutors to pursue all legal avenues to target the gang and lets local police agencies tap into federal money to help pay for gang-related investigations.

MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha, is believed by federal prosecutors to have thousands of members nationwide, primarily immigrants from Central America. It emerged in the 1980s from a stronghold in Los Angeles. But its true rise began after members were deported back to El Salvador in the 1990s.

President Donald Trump blames lax U.S. immigration laws for allowing deported members to return to the U.S.

Federal authorities say the danger posed by the decades-old street gang has been increasing. During a December stop in Baltimore, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen described MS-13 as a "threat to our homeland security."

Some experts who study gangs believe the overall menace posed by MS-13 has been exaggerated amid the Trump administration's broader immigration crackdown.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.