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El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele to deploy police and military to ‘extract’ gang members

The move marks an escalation of the president’s controversial crackdown on criminal organizations, which has been widely condemned by human rights groups

Nayib Bukele
Thousands of soldiers in El Salvador at a speech by President Nayib Bukele.Rodrigo Sura (EFE)

The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, announced Wednesday that he will deploy police and military to “extract” gang members from major cities in the Central American country. The new measure is part of Bukele’s sweeping crusade against gang violence, which human rights group say unfairly targets poor, working-class young men. Since the government introduced a state of emergency to contain gangs in March, more than 58,000 people have been arrested.

“What we are going to do is surround large cities and extract the terrorists who are hiding within the communities, without giving them the slightest possibility of escape,” said Bukele at a graduation ceremony for 14,000 military officers in San Juan Opico. The president, citing “security reasons,” did not specify which cities would be targeted.

Nayib Bukele
The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, speaks at a military graduation ceremony on Wednesday. Rodrigo Sura (EFE)

Bukele launched a similar campaign in October, when the town of Comasguas was encircled by the military following a murder. According to official sources, the mission successfully busted a cell of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), the main criminal gang in El Salvador, alongside Barrio 18 (or the 18th Street gang).

“If they [the suspected criminals] want to escape or someone wants to supply them with weapons, or food, or ammunition, or cellphones or anything they use to intimidate the population, they are going to be intercepted,” added Bukele, speaking of the new plan.

No further details are known about the operation. The government has only said that the deployments will be carried out as part of the so-called Territorial Control security program. El Salvador has been under a state of emergency since March 27. The measure, which allows the police to make arrests without a warrant, was extended by Congress until mid-December, despite strong criticism from opposition groups and the international community. As of last March, 16,000 gang members were in prison. Most of the inmates are members of MS-13 and Barrio 18, and their splinter groups.

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