Washington: More than 600 gang members and associates in 179 US cities were arrested in a month-long crackdown on a fast-growing Latino gang that also netted firearms and drugs, officials have said.
Project Southbound targeted the Surenos, also known as Sur 13, a transnational gang with roots in southern California implicated in murder, extortion, drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes.
Among those arrested was a 27-year-old in Texas wanted for murder in his native El Salvador and a San Francisco man accused of supplying large quantities of premium marijuana to Surenos members.
The Department of Justice has called the Surenos the fastest-growing gang in the United States on a national level.
Thomas Winkowski, of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said yesterday, it was the biggest operation ever undertaken by ICE against the gang, which is known for its decentralised hierarchy and affinity to the Mexican underworld.
"This gang now has more than 30,000 members in the United States and its numbers are growing," he said, adding that ICE would "continue to disrupt and dismantle" its activities.
ICE special agents seized 57 firearms, 13 pounds (six kilos) of methamphetamine, 83 pounds of marijuana, four pounds of cocaine, 1.5 pounds of heroin, more than USD 166,000 in US currency and 10 vehicles.
Besides the 638 gang members and associates, Project Southbound -- conducted with help from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies -- netted 119 others wanted for various criminal and immigration offences.
Those arrested came from 21 countries in South and Central America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Seventy-nine were female.