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MS-13 gang labeled transnational criminal group, a first for US street gang

MS-13 gang is a violent group engaged in the drug, sex, and human trafficking trades in the US. Designating MS-13 gang a transnational criminal organization helps US officials target it more aggressively.

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A MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha graffiti is tagged on a Salvadorean bakery wall in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 11.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

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For the first time, a street gang operating in the United States has been officially designated a transnational criminal organization, empowering officials to more aggressively target the group, Mara Salvatrucha MS-13, which engages in the drug, sex, and human trafficking trades.

MS-13 is an El Salvador-based gang that over three decades has developed into a violent criminal force from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

Naming the gang a transnational criminal organization suggests how the group has evolved from being primarily a criminal element in Central American immigrant communities to a regional organized crime network delving into a range of illegal markets, experts in North and Central American crime patterns say.   

The designation, announced by the Treasury Department Thursday, aims at shutting down MS-13’s financial operations, which have grown increasingly sophisticated as the gang has matured from its roots in Los Angeles among young Salvadoran refugees escaping their country’s civil war in the 1980’s.

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