El Salvador’s National Civil Police (PNC in Spanish) dealt a new blow to the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) criminal structure. Francisco Adalberto Ábrego, also known as “Francisco” and “El Strooper,” was arrested on March 26, 2018, during an operation at a beachfront villa in La Libertad, El Salvador. Ábrego was on Crime Stoppers-El Salvador’s list of 100 most-wanted criminals.
The courts had issued Ábrego three arrest warrants for the crimes of homicide of a female, aggravated homicide, and attempted aggravated homicide. He also boasted the rank of “palabrero” (leader) of the criminal cell “Directos Locos Salvatruchos,” a subgroup of MS13 linked to an extortion and drug dealing network in San Vicente, El Salvador.
“Our intelligence teams obtained information a couple of days ago [March 24, 2018] that Ábrego was scheduled to go to El Tunco Beach with other gang members,” said Deputy Commissioner Karla Andrade, chief of PNC's La Libertad Central-Southern station. “[The operation] was coordinated with units from La Libertad, and they were arrested at a private villa in route one.”
Ábrego and 10 other gang members arrived at the villa for a party in three rental cars. The noise alerted the neighbors, who called the PNC's anonymous emergency line to report the irregularity. The tip confirmed information that authorities already had on the location of the criminals. “We had already gathered relevant evidence, and the three vehicles showed signs of having transported drugs,” added Deputy Commissioner Andrade.
Two gang members who are considered highly dangerous were also in the group. Darwin Steven Castellanos, also known as José Ulises Castellanos aka “El Soviético”, had an arrest warrant for homicide, and Dennis Alfonso Flores aka “El Muco”, had accumulated five arrest warrants, three for homicide and two for being a member of terrorist organizations. Eight gang members who committed crimes under Ábrego’s orders were also arrested at the villa. The detainees, accused of active membership in terrorist organizations, were sent to a specialized court. Individually, Ábrego, Castellanos, and Flores will also have to answer for the crimes specified in the previous charges filed against them.
Transnational criminal groups, gangs
Faced with a growing wave of crimes and violent acts committed by criminals, both in El Salvador and the United States, the U.S. Department of the Treasury included MS13 on a list of transnational criminal organizations in 2012. The U.S. institution included the gang’s participation in serious transnational criminal activity such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, migrant smuggling, human trafficking, homicide, murder, extortion, blackmail, and immigration-related crimes.
In order to bear down more heavily on members of these organized criminal groups, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court of Justice, the country's highest interpreting body of legal standards, declared in October 2015 that the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs are considered terrorist organizations. “The activities of these groups constitute organized and systematic exercise of violence, which, through the concrete violation of individual or collective legal property, seek to intimidate the population in a general way, control territory in towns, compel governing authorities to negotiate for reduced prison sentences or other concessions, and affect a nation's economic system, within the framework of democracy and according to the system of fundamental rights provided for by the Constitution,” the Constitutional Chamber said in a document.
Crime Stoppers is a program to gather information anonymously from citizens. It was created in the United States in 1976. Citizens report on criminal activity in their communities, and the program combines the information into a valuable tool for authorities. The program was implemented in El Salvador in 2012 and works in coordination with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security through PNC and the Attorney General's Office of El Salvador.