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Who is MS-13?

Posted at 1:22 PM, Mar 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-27 08:18:00-04

Who is MS-13?

MS-13 is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s. The gang was originally comprised of emmigrants who fled the war in El Salvador.

RELATED: Las Vegas police: 10 murders committed by MS-13 gang in last year

It is now believed that there are gang members in many parts of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central America. In the mid-2000s, it was believed that there was almost 10,000 members in 33 states and Washington, D.C, and 80,000 members in the other locations. 

Members of MS-13 are characterized by tattoos, including facial tattoos, and the use of their own sign language. The gang is involved in a number of crimes, including distribution of drugs and human smuggling. 

MS-13 has a reputation for ruthlessness, including dismemberment of its enemies.

RELATED: MS-13 is a street gang, not a drug cartel and the difference matters

According to an article by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, there were approximately 100 members in Southern Nevada in 2007. The gang was in the headlines at that time because it was believed to have been responsible for the death of a 24-year-old man named Jose Martinez at the time. Martinez was found with the letters "MS" tattooed on his chest after his death. Gang members often have the letters "MS" as tattoos along with tattoos of devil horns and other gang symbols. 

The sheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said on Monday that there are approximately 50 members in the area. 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in October 2017 that the gang was "a priority for our Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces." President Trump also used the activities of MS-13 to justify his administration's planned crackdown on illegal immigrants from Latin America. He threatened to destroy th group in his 2018 State of the Union Address

Most experts don't believe that MS-13 is a lucrative network of criminal masterminds though and says it has not had much luck breaking into the business of running illicit drugs. Some even say it is more of a "social club" than a gang and it has not clear hierarchy and it is only very loosely organized. 

RELATED: The most violent MS-13 crimes of 2017 so far

There is no question that it is a violent gang though. Members often join in their teenage years. However, they can not become full-fledged "homeboys" until they murder a rival gang member. It is believed that the gang was responsible for at least 17 murders in 17 months in 2016 and 2017.