WASHINGTONThe Obama administration is levying financial sanctions against six individual leaders of an ultra-violent street gang already designated an international criminal group.
The six men are believed to be among leaders of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, a sprawling U.S. and Central American street gang most infamous for using machetes to hack and stab victims.
The Treasury Department declared MS-13 a transnational criminal organization last year. It is the first international street gang to be so designated.
The designation is intended to keep the gang from using the U.S. financial system and allows the government to seize what are estimated to be millions of dollars in profits from drug and human smuggling and other crimes.
MS-13 is believed to have begun in Los Angeles in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants eager to protect their own against Mexican and African-American gangs. They quickly grew and have spread across most major American cities and throughout Central America.
In a 2012 statement, the Treasury Department wrote: "MS-13 consists of at least 30,000 members in a range of countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, and is one of the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world today. MS-13 is active within the United States, with at least 8,000 members operating in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. MS-13's criminal nature can be seen in one of its mottos, "Mata, roba, viola, controla" ("Kill, steal, rape, control"). Domestically, the group is involved in multiple crimes including murder, racketeering, drug trafficking, sex trafficking and human trafficking including prostitution. The group frequently carries out violent attacks on opposing gang members, often injuring innocent bystanders. MS-13 members have been responsible for numerous killings within the United States."