The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it had successfully arrested multiple MS-13 leaders, and that it would be charging at least one gang member with terrorism-related offenses for the first time ever.
The administration launched a task force, known as Project Vulcan, last summer to “disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately destroy MS-13,” a Central-American gang known for extremely violent criminal behavior.
The task force coordinated a multi-district takedown of MS-13, which led to dozens of arrests, including 13 in Nevada and eight in New York.
As a result, the DOJ will be bringing several criminal charges against MS-13 members, including narco-terrorism, racketeering conspiracy and drug trafficking, according to Attorney General William Barr.
“In 2017, the president directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” Barr said during a press conference on Wednesday.
“In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for murder.”
A key leader nabbed in the operation was Melgar Diaz, who was charged this week with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and commit acts of terrorism.
Diaz was responsible for illegal activities in 13 states, according to the DOJ, and frequently “green-lighted” assassinations.
This is the first time the DOJ has used terrorism-related charges against a member of MS-13, Barr said.
Project Vulcan also arrested MS-13 leader Alexi Saenz, who reportedly committed more than seven murders between 2016 and 2017 alone.
The DOJ is seeking the death penalty for Saenz, according to a press release.
“The person we are seeking a death penalty against was involved in those murders as well as two African Americans who they saw on the street and thought were from a rival gang and just butchered,” Barr said.
MS-13 is a “death cult” that focuses on “the honor of being the most savage, blood-thirsty person you can be,” Barr explained. The gang has also become increasingly involved in human and narcotics trafficking, though its primary drive isn’t commercial, he added.
President Trump praised the “historic operation” that led to this week’s indictments, and vowed to continue the “all out campaign to destroy MS-13.”
“This is probably the meanest, worst gang anywhere in the world, the MS-13 group. And a big dent was put in them, took place over the last few days and really over the last year,” Trump said.