Complete Profile of MS-13:  World’s most powerful gang


MS-13’s emergence dates back to 1980s. In 1980s, a massive civil war sprung up in South American countries like El Salvador. As many as one million South American people took refuge in the United States in order to escape the war. Many Salvadorian migrants took asylum in Los Angeles. Back then in 1980s, underworld crime in Los Angeles was organized by the Mexicans, though being from the same ethnic background, Salvadorians were not welcomed by the Mexicans. Thus the Salvadorians were left vulnerable to the abuse of the underworld. Initially, Mara Salvatrucha commonly known as MS-13 was formed by a bunch of Salvadorians in order to provide protection to the Salvadorian immigrants. These refugees did’t come with the intentions of becoming a gangster the circumstances forced them to choose that life.  The name Mara Salvatrucha was adopted, as in Spanish language, Mara refers to ‘gang’, ‘Salva’ stands for El Salvador and ‘Trucha’ comes from the English word trout, which is used to refer to smart, streetwise people. So basically Mara Salvatrucha, or MS collectively meant ‘street-smart Salvadorian’ people. Later in 1990s, the number 13 was added to their name to refer to the letter ‘M’, being the 13th letter in the English alphabet.


MS-13 was born in a small Los Angeles neighborhood and initially consisted of only refugees from El Salvador. But over the years the gang has extended its membership and has around 75,000 gang members spread worldwide. Gang has 20,000 members in United States itself and also has a strong presence in American countries like Honduras, Nicaragua, Canada, El Salvador and Mexico. Before inducting a member in the gang, the member has to go through a beating for a count of 13. Most of these gang members come from the poverty-stricken countries of South America and for these people joining the gang is an easy way to get a better life. The gang is known to have many teenage recruits who are actively involved in robbery, extortion, kidnapping and other criminal activities of the gang. Some of gang members are as young as 8 year old. A MS-13 gang member is paid somewhere around $400 a month.


MS-13’s biggest rivals are the 18th street gang which mainly comprises of the Mexican immigrants. Both gangs have an infamous history of gun wars and violence. Both gangs have been battling over the years for having an extended ownership over the drug business and other trades like human trafficking and child prostitution. Due to the gang war death rate in El Salvador had escalated to 16-17 people being murdered each day. In March 2012 a truce was initiated by the government between the rival gangs. After the truce the death rate had sunken to quite low. But the truce lasted for only two years and in 2015 crime rates in El Salvador soared to all time high.

Criminal Operations

MS-13 is known for its ruthlessness and senseless acts of violence. The minor MS-13 members are actively involved in assaults and drug trading across their neighborhood. Over the years MS-13 have grown more sophisticated and has strengthened its involvement in human trafficking, money laundering, extortion and illegal immigration. MS-13’s presence is not limited to just one state, the thing that make them so difficult to catch is their ability to slip between the borders of different countries. MS-13 is known to have strengthen their ties with Los Zetas and have collaborated with them to smuggle drugs and illegal weapons across the borders of America. Some of the MS-13 members are also known to have invested their money in local businesses and shops in their neighborhood.

Tattoos: MS-13 members are known for their elaborate tattoos covering most part of their body. Some of their famous tattoos are the letter M, S and the devil’s horn(represents inverted M)

Ethnicity: Majority of MS-13 members are from Latin America. The gang comprises of Salvadorians, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans.

Administration: Over the years MS-13 gang has become more organized and sophisticated in functioning. The gang comprises of various cliques and each clique has it leader that gives order to the members. 

Graffiti: MS-13 use graffiti to show gangs presence in that neighborhood.

Presence: Map showing MS-13's presence.

Gestures: MS-13 gang members use certain hand signs, this helps to identify themselves in front of other gang members.

Prison: Jails in El Salvador houses around 10,000 members of MS-13 and 18th street gang, they are crammed inside tiny overcrowded prison cells.

Government’s Initiatives

In 2004, California State in the US passed anti-gang laws that allowed police to apprehend any suspicious person with gang tattoos. Most of the gang members in the United States are deported back to their original country, where legal proceedings take place against them. In 2015 the Salvadorian government proposed a law, under which the members who choose to leave the gang would be provided with rehabilitation and other benefits such as job trainings, money for education, loans for business and purchasing a house.