El Salvador launches mass trial for nearly 500 accused gang leaders

While some have been in jail for years, others were captured as part of the country's controversial state of emergency launched in March 2022

El Salvador on Thursday kicked off a mass trial to prosecute nearly 500 alleged leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha gang for more than 37,000 crimes committed over a decade, the Central American nation’s prosecutor’s office said.

Among the accused are 24 MS-13 top guns, some of whom have extradition requests from the United States, the prosecutor’s office said. They are charged with crimes such as aggravated homicide, kidnapping, and arms trafficking.

“Each crime committed by gang members had to be ordered by the ringleaders. The prosecutor’s office will ensure that these criminals pay for the suffering they subjected Salvadorans to for decades,” it said on social media network X.

The trial is being held virtually, as the accused criminals are being held at various prisons. Some have been in detention for years, while others were captured as part of the country’s state of emergency launched in March 2022.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has made the crackdown on crime a cornerstone of his administration and was re-elected on Sunday in a landslide as his policies remain popular with voters despite rights groups’ concerns about violations committed during the arrest of some 76,000 Salvadorans, often without due process.

In January, Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro said a mass hearing would only take place for these alleged gang leaders, not the lower-ranking members.



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