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Mara Salvatrucha
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MS gang member with gang's name tattooed in the back.
Mara Salvatrucha refers to a large subset of the gangs (or "Maras") involved in criminal activities in Central America and the United States. The gang names are commonly abbreviated as MS, Mara, MS-13, and are composed mostly of Salvadorans, Hondurans and other Central Americans. The Mara Salvatrucha gangs have cliques, or factions, located throughout the United States and Latin America. Membership is believed to total over 100,000 worldwide.[1] MS criminal activities include drug smuggling and sales, black market gun sales, human trafficking, assassinations for hire, theft, and assaults on law enforcement officials.[2] Their activities have caught the eye of the FBI, who in September 2005 initiated wide-scale raids against suspected gang members, netting 660 arrests across the country.[3] In the United States, the gang's strongholds have historically been in Southern California, Miami and Washington, D.C..
Former gang member Brenda Paz said that MS is well structured, with multiple leaders, and that the gang's goal was to become the top gang in the United States.[3]
Contents
[hide]
1 History
2 Infamous crimes
2.1 Illegal immigration and human smuggling
3 Etymology
4 Recruitment
5 Gang markings
6 See also
7 References
8 External links
History

Mara Salvatrucha originated in Los Angeles, California [3]. There is some dispute about the exact etymology (see below). The most common belief is that the word "Mara" refers to the Spanish word for "army ant", and "Salvatrucha" (which is Spanish slang) for "Salvadoran". The gang was set up in Los Angeles in 1972 by Salvadoran immigrants in the Pico-Union section [4].
Their main purpose was to protect themselves from other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominately comprised of Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. The "devil's head" hand signal, which forms an "M" when displayed upside down, is similar to the same symbol common in hard rock. The founders copied this symbol they saw on their visits to rock concerts. The gang initially allowed only Salvadorans to join, but later allowed other Hispanics and now all nationalities[citation needed].
Many Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the Los Angeles area have been deported either because of their illegal status in the United States, or for committing crimes as non-citizens, or both. As a result of these deportations, members of MS have recruited more members in their home countries. Some contend deportation policies have contributed to the size and influence of the gang both in the United States and in Central America [4].
Infamous crimes

On July 23, 2003, Brenda Paz, a pregnant 17-year old girl, was found murdered on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Virginia. Police believed she was killed to prevent her from cooperating in MS-13 related investigations in six states. Four of her friends were later convicted of the murder.[5]
On December 23, 2004, one of the most widely publicized MS-13 crimes in Central America happened in Chamelecón, Honduras. An intercity bus was intercepted and sprayed with automatic gunfire, killing some 28 passengers. [6] Those convicted were MS gangleaders and in February 2007 the courts found Juan Carlos Miralda Bueso and Darwin Alexis Ramírez guilty of several crimes including murder and attempted murder. Ebert Anibal Rivera was held over the attack and was arrested in Texas after having fled [7]. While another, also accused of masterminding the attack, Juan Bautista Jimenez, was killed in prison. According to the authorities he was hanged by fellow MS-13 inmates.
On May 13, 2006, Ernesto "Smokey" Miranda was murdered at his home in El Salvador, a few hours after declining to attend a party for a gang member who had just been released from prison. He had begun studying law and working to keep kids out of gangs.
Illegal immigration and human smuggling
According to The Washington Times, MS-13 "is thought to have established a major smuggling center" in Mexico.[9] There were reports that MS-13 members were ordered to Arizona to target border guards and Minuteman Project volunteers.[10][11]. There have been several reports that Al Qaeda has contacted MS-13 about human smuggling.[12][13] The FBI has said it does not believe that Al Qaeda is working with MS-13.[12]
Etymology

There are various possible explanations for the name Mara Salvatrucha. Some sources state the gang is named for La Mara, a street in San Salvador, and the Salvatrucha guerrillas who fought in El Salvador's bloody civil war [14]. Additionally, the word mara means gang in Caliche and is taken from marabunta, the name of a fierce type of ant. "Salvatrucha" is a portmanteau of Salvadoran and trucha, a Caliche word for being alert, usually entailing preparedness for crime or abuse from police. Mara Salvatrucha is also commonly translated as Salvadoran Army Ant.
Recruitment

Recruitment varies, however, it has been reported that gang members recruit from their workplaces. MS-13 members have brought co-workers from their jobs to gang meetings.[15] Like many gangs, new members are initiated by being "jumped in." MS-13 initiates are beaten for 13 seconds by current members of the gang.
Gang markings



An MS-13 suspect bearing gang tattoos is handcuffed. In 2004, the FBI created the MS-13 National Gang Task Force. A year later, the FBI helped create National Gang Intelligence Center.
Most Mara Salvatrucha members often cover themselves in tattoos. Common markings include "MS", "13", "Salvadorian Pride" the "Devil Horns" and the name of their clique.[16]
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