Civil guard officers on Monday arrested 35 people accused of being part of the Salvadoran criminal street gang Mara Salvatrucha.
The alleged leaders of the group were based in Alicante and Barcelona, and had come directly from El Salvador to set up criminal operations in Spain, according to Civil Guard sources.
The inquiry began in 2012 when Spanish authorities began investigating the fatal stabbing of a youth near the port district of Alicante. At first, the incident was considered a revenge killing relating to a dispute between rival gangs. But later police discovered a well-structured conspiracy dedicated to trafficking drugs and carrying out robberies in Alicante, Madrid, Girona, Barcelona and Tarragona.
But unlike other Latino street gangs that have taken root in Spain – such as the Latin Kings and Dominican Don’t Play – the maras were also involved in money-laundering operations. At the time of their arrests, the suspects were in the process of seeking permits to open bars and restaurants throughout Alicante, law enforcement authorities said.
The Salvatruchas were one of several mara gangs organized in El Salvador some time after the 1992 peace accords were signed that put an end to the bloody 12-year civil war. Many of its original members were orphans living on the streets.
The Salvatruchas and another gang, M-18, grew so powerful that they began recruiting members in Los Angeles through the many Salvadoran youths who had illegally emigrated to the United States. They also set up affiliates in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras.
In 2013, jailed maras leaders in El Salvador announced a truce. Since then, the murder rate in the country has dropped considerably, said outgoing Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes in a recent EL PAÍS interview.