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Trump admin operation to take out MS-13 leadership has 22 arrests so far

Authorities arrested 21 suspected members of the violent gang MS-13. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
July 16, 2020

President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday the successful takedown of 22 MS-13 gang members stemming from an August 2019 Department of Justice initiative to disrupt and dismantle the criminal organization, known as Joint Task Force Vulcan.

“We just concluded a historic operation leading to the arrest and indictment of dozens of savage MS-13 members and leaders all across the country,” Trump announced in an Oval Office statement Wednesday. He noted more than 20 of the MS-13 members that had been arrested and indicted in the past seven days were illegal aliens.

“This week’s actions by the Joint Task Force Vulcan is the most recent offensive; really this has been a big offensive in my administration’s war on foreign gangs,” Trump said.

Trump noted 21 MS-13 members in New York and Nevada had been indicted on charges ranging from weapons and narcotics charges, kidnapping and murder. In addition to the one MS-13 member in Virginia, the DOJ announced a 24-count indictment against eight MS-13 members in New York and a 21-count indictment against 13 MS-13 members in Nevada, for a total of 22 MS-13 arrests relating to the task force’s efforts.

He also said the DOJ would seek the death penalty against at least one MS-13 member, identified by the DOJ as Alexi Saenz. The MS-13 member faces charges on seven murders between 2016 and 2017, including two teenage girls.

“We believe the monsters who murder children should be put to death,” Trump said. “. . . We will not allow these animals to terrorize our communities and my administration will not rest until every member of MS-13 is brought to justice.”

Trump also noted federal prosecutors of the Eastern District of Virginia had successfully indicted an MS-13 member on terrorism charges. A Wednesday Department of Justice statement indicated the Eastern District of Virginia charged Melgar Diaz with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism across national boundaries, conspiring to finance terrorism and conspiring to engage in “narco-terrorism.”

In the last three years, ICE has deported over 16,000 gang members and had arrested over 2,000 members of the MS-13 gang itself, Trump said.

“In 2017, the President directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” Attorney General Barr said in the DOJ statement. “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. Joint Task Force Vulcan’s operations have significantly degraded MS-13 capabilities.”

“While there is still work to be done, the Department of Justice remains committed to protecting Americans threatened by MS-13, and we will not rest until we have successfully defeated this transnational criminal organization,” Barr added.

Barr also extended thanks to Raul Melera, the Attorney General of El Salvador, for assisting in the U.S. DOJ’s efforts to bring down the MS-13 gang, which is comprised of El Salvadorian members.