LOS ANGELES (CN) – Members of the MS-13 gang committed a string of murders across Southern California in recent years, including gruesome slayings where the gang used machetes to kill victims in a forest near Los Angeles, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, was founded in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and has since spread across the U.S and to Central America and Mexico.
President Donald Trump has said that MS-13 gang members are “animals” responsible for crimes against Americans and whose violent gang activity has led to increases in drug trafficking in U.S cities.
Federal prosecutors in LA say at least 24 people were killed by MS-13 gang members in the last two years, including violent murders by a subset that operated in the San Fernando Valley. Twenty-two people have been charged in the murders.
The gang – which operated as the “Fulton clique” – targeted rival gang members, people thought to be cooperating with police and, in one case, a homeless man living in an MS-13-controlled park, according to a 78-page superseding indictment unsealed Monday.
Prosecutors say six MS-13 members used machetes to kill and dismember a rival gang member who defaced MS-13 graffiti in March 2017, cutting out the victim’s heart and dumping severed body parts in an Angeles National Forest canyon.
Three other people were killed in the Angeles National Forest by the Fulton clique, prosecutors say. They also murdered someone in the Malibu hills and in the gang’s stronghold Whitsett Fields Park in North Hollywood, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors have not indicated whether they will seek the death penalty.
In a statement Tuesday, U.S Attorney Nick Hanna said the investigation’s “unqualified success” was due to collaboration between local police and federal law enforcement.
“We have now taken off the streets nearly two dozen people associated with the most violent arm of MS-13 in Los Angeles, where the gang is believed to have killed 24 people over the past two years,” Hanna said. “The collaborative law enforcement effort solved several murder cases and dealt a severe blow to members of the gang who engaged in acts of brutality not seen in the region for over 20 years.”
Three gang members were arrested in the past several days in the LA area while a fourth was arrested in Oklahoma over the weekend, U.S Attorney’s Office spokesperson Thom Mrozek said in a statement Tuesday. Mrozek noted 18 other MS-13 members have been arrested in the last year.
The superseding indictment adds 15 defendants to an indictment filed in March. All but one of the 22 defendants also face charges of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act stemming from murders committed by MS-13 in 2014 and 2015, and for transporting $1.22 million in drug profits that were seized in Nebraska in 2010.
Two pending cases against juvenile gang members remain under seal.