More than two dozen members of the international street gang MS-13 were arrested Thursday in a multistate sweep, authorities said.
It was the latest effort to disrupt what authorities say is one of the most dangerous and organized gangs in the nation.
"We basically turned a blowtorch on them this morning. Their operation is in disarray," said Peter Brust, acting assistant director for the FBI's Los Angeles field office.
Twenty-six reputed gang members and associates were taken into
custody on federal or state charges, most of them in Los Angeles
and Las Vegas, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's
office in Los Angeles.
The charges, contained in previously filed federal and state indictments and criminal complaints, ranged from illegal re-entry into the United States to violating probation to drug and weapon charges, he said.
Among those arrested was Oscar Chacon, 29, whom authorities described as a "shot caller," or ringleader, of an MS-13 faction in Los Angeles.
Chacon had been deported to El Salvador but returned illegally, authorities said.
He was booked on a federal charge of conspiring to traffic in narcotics stemming from a series of methamphetamine deals, Mrozek said.
If convicted he could face 10 years to life in prison.
It was not immediately clear whether Chacon had an attorney.
Six other reputed gang members were arrested prior to Thursday's
sweep and several more were expected to be taken into custody
throughout the day, Brust said.
At least six other suspects remained at large, he said.
At a news conference, authorities displayed handguns and several
pounds of cocaine seized during the raids.
MS-13, whose initials stand for "Mara Salvatrucha," was founded in Los Angeles in the late 1970s by immigrants - some with paramilitary training - who fled the civil war in El Salvador.
It has developed into a web of cliques with an estimated 10,000 members in 33 states and Washington, D.C., with tens of thousands
more in Latin America.
Officials have linked MS-13 members to drug and human smuggling along with murders and other crimes.
The gang has a reputation for ruthlessness, including the use of machetes to dismember enemies.
In Honduras, MS-13 members were convicted for a 2004 attack on a bus that was sprayed with automatic gunfire, killing 28 men, women and children.
Thursday's raids were conducted by a task force involving the FBI and other federal, state and local agencies.
El Salvador's national police force cooperated in the investigation but no
arrests were made in that country.
Federal officials have been conducting raids against MS-13 for two years, making hundreds of arrests. Forty reputed members and associates were arrested last month in Omaha, Neb.