Operation targeting MS-13 gang in Texas nets nearly 2 dozen arrests, officials say

Three MS-13 gang members charged with the killing of a rival gang member who was hacked to death were among nearly two dozen recently arrested in the Houston area as part of an operation targeting the notorious gang, federal officials announced Tuesday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a news release that 23 gang members and gang associates were arrested in Texas over the course of the 26-day "surge operation" that ended May 31.

Of those arrested, 13 were confirmed MS-13 gang members or gang associates, according to ICE.

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“Transnational criminal gangs like MS-13 pose an immediate threat to the safety and security of our local communities,” Assistant Special Agent in Charge  Mario Trevino said in a statement. “Our ongoing efforts with our law enforcement partners targeting gang activity helps make our communities safer for everyone to live and work.”

Nearly two dozen gang members and gang associates were arrested in a 26-day operation that targeted MS-13 in the Houston area, according to federal officials.

Nearly two dozen gang members and gang associates were arrested in a 26-day operation that targeted MS-13 in the Houston area, according to federal officials. (ICE)

The three MS-13 gang members charged with murder are Francisco Flores-Salazar, 19, Mario Guevara-Flores, 26, and Francisco Alberto Ancheta-Aquino, 21, who were all in the country illegally.

All three are from El Salvador and were each charged in the killing of a rival gang member whose decomposing body was discovered next to an elementary school in northern Harris County last August, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Jose Alfonso Villanueza, 24, was hacked to death by MS-13 gang members on July 29, 2018, after he was lured by a 17-year-old girl with the promise of a belated birthday present -- marijuana, the Chronicle reported at the time.

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The federal agency said that gang activity has increased in the Houston-area in recent years, prompting Homeland Security Investigations Houston and the Texas Anti-Gang Center to "ramp up" efforts to confront the problem.

In the fiscal year 2018, HSI arrested 959 MS-13 gang members and associates nationwide, according to ICE.

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During a Wednesday morning appearance on "FOX & friends," acting ICE director Mark Morgan said there were 34,000 criminal arrests last year including 5,000 gang members, thousands of child exploitation and human trafficking cases handled and $1.2 billion in U.S. currency seized from illegal activities.

Fox News' Anna Hopkins contributed to this report.