Law Enforcement officials in the U.S. and Central America announced the arrest of more than 700 violent gang members under a joint operation. Operation Regional Shield (ORS) led to the arrest of gang members in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras including members of MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs.
Gang prosecutors and law enforcement investigators led an operation to charge and arrest members of transnational criminal organizations under an ongoing joint operation started by the Trump administration in 2017, according to information obtained from the U.S. Department of Justice. The combined effort led to charges being filed against more than 1,100 members of the criminal groups and the immediate arrest of more than 700 people throughout Central America.
“The U.S. Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners in Central America are committed to continued collaboration in locating and arresting gang members and associates engaged in transnational crimes,” U.S. Attorney General Barr said in a statement in late November. “Our countries are made safer by working together to protect national security and to ensure public safety in our neighborhoods.”
In addition to the criminal gang members, officials also arrested corrupt public officials including a Honduran police commissioner, a deputy inspector, and three law enforcement agents in connection to ongoing human smuggling networks, the report states.
Within hours of the ORS kickoff, Salvadoran prosecutors filed charges against more than 1,100 members of criminal groups. This led to the immediate arrest of 572 people — primarily members of MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs.
Charges against the criminal gang members include terrorism, murder, extortion, kidnapping, vehicle theft, robbery, conspiracy, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, weapons violations, human trafficking and human smuggling, officials stated.
“Since 2017, we have taken a joint and coordinated approach as northern triangle countries with our strategic partner, the United States of America,” Attorney General Raul Melara of El Salvador said in a written statement. “To give our Salvadoran people a response and ensure that criminals face justice, we have strengthened the work of our Specialized Prosecution Units to be more effective in combating organized crime and terrorist organizations. I am committed as Attorney General to continuing this coordinated effort. We will only eradicate transnational organized crime by combining efforts as a region and by continuing to work together.”
The Guatemalan Anti-Extortions Prosecution Office, the Prosecutor’s Office Against Transnational Crimes, the Special Unit Against Transnational Gangs, and other police officers served 80 search warrants and arrested 40 people. They also served 29 arrest warrants against gang members already in custody. The charges ranged from extortion to illicit association, conspiracy to commit murder, and extortive obstruction, officials reported.
“As Attorney General of the Republic and Chief of the Public Ministry, I reaffirm my commitment to the fight against transnational organized crime, one of the main goals of my administration,” said Attorney General María Consuelo Porras Argueta of Guatemala. “To this end, we have increased efforts to provide an effective response to the population through the creation of the Prosecutor’s Office against Transnational Crimes, the Special Unit against Transnational Gangs, the Special Unit against Crimes in Airports and Airfields, the signing of the statement of the Advisory Group of General Prosecutors of the Northern Triangle, which I have the honor to preside; among other strategic actions to combat transnational organized crime with frontal actions against drug trafficking, gangs, organized crime and smuggling of migrants.”
An ORS joint operation in Honduras carried out over a one-week period led to the arrest of 75 MS-13 and 18th Street gang members. In addition, officials reportedly took five police officers into custody. The arrests stemmed from charges related to illicit association, murder, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, and drug trafficking.
“I consider that, due to the regional threat posed by these transnational crimes, equal interagency and regional efforts should come into effect,” said Attorney General Oscar Fernando Chinchilla of Honduras. “Only by joining forces, the damaging consequences produced by these criminal organizations could be neutralized.”
U.S. Department of Justice officials reported:
On February 9, President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking to dismantle and eradicate transnational criminal organizations threatening the safety of our communities. Pursuant to that order, the U.S. Department of Justice has made dismantling transnational human smuggling networks and gangs, including MS-13, a top priority.
Regional Shield anti-gang efforts have led to charges against more than 11,000 gang members since 2017, including gang leaders nationwide. Many of these indictments included the seizure of gang assets including firearms and money. Also, during that time, more than a dozen smuggling/trafficking structures were dismantled. The capacity-building efforts in Central America of the Justice Department’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) have played a key role in bringing together the Attorneys General from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to form the regional operations targeting MS-13, 18th Street, and other gangs, as well as human smuggling transnational organizations. Additionally, as a result of OPDAT’s capacity building efforts, the Justice Department’s partners in Central America have strengthened cooperation and developed the skills, tools, and techniques to maximize results against all forms of transnational organized crime impacting the region and the United States.
In El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the investigations into transnational criminal organizations is being handled by regional gang prosecutors who receive State Department-funded training and mentoring from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and OPDAT. With support from State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, prosecutors from OPDAT helped establish task forces in the region and work with FBI’s local Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) units, as well as HSI’s Transnational Criminal Investigative Units (TCIUs). These efforts have helped Central American partners convict thousands of criminals, seize over $1 billion in illicit assets, and coordinate dozens of transnational investigations with their U.S. counterparts.
Law enforcement agencies involved in this latest sixth ORS operation included El Salvador’s Fiscalia General de la Republica (FGR) and the Policia Nacional Civil (PNC); Honduras Policía Nacional, la Dirección Nacional de Servicios Especiales de Investigación (DNSEI), Agencia Técnica de Investigaciones Criminales (ATIC), and Fuerza Nacional Anti Maras y Pandillas (FNAMP) and Guatemala’s Prosecutor’s Office against Transnational Crimes, National Civil Police, Special National Division of Criminal Investigation, National Civil Police’s Anti-Gang Unit, Public Ministry, Anti-Extortions Prosecution Office, and the Special Unit against Transnational Gangs.
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