Nearly two dozen alleged leaders and members of the violent gang MS-13 have been arrested and indicted as part of a U.S. federal law enforcement operation aimed at disrupting the group's leadership.
President Donald Trump, who has vowed to dismantle the group, announced the development Wednesday at the White House, flanked by Attorney General William Barr and other senior law enforcement officials.
"We've just concluded a historic operation, leading to the arrest and indictment of dozens of savage MS-13 members and leaders all across the country," Trump said.
Trump said the arrests included MS-13 members "at high, high levels" and took place in recent days.
In the Eastern District of Virginia, federal prosecutors for the first time charged an MS-13 member with terrorism-related crimes. In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, Melgar Diaz was charged with providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national borders, among other charges.
In a separate case, the Justice Department said Barr had filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty for another alleged MS-13 member, Alexi Saenz. Saenz was indicted in 2017 on seven murder charges, including killing two high school students with a machete and a baseball bat.
Trump hailed the move, which came a day after the Justice Department resumed federal executions for the first time in nearly two decades.
"We believe the monsters who murder children should be put to death," Trump said. "We seem to have quite a good agreement on that."
MS-13 is the only street gang designated by the Treasury Department as a transnational criminal organization. The group, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, boasts nearly 10,000 members in the United States, mostly immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The MS-13 arrests came as Trump has touted his administration's tough-on-crime policies while he campaigns for re-election against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
"So when Biden and the radical left want to open borders for MS-13 and others, we want strong borders, we want - as I've said, we want borders," Trump said. "Without borders, you don't have a country."
In 2017, Trump issued an executive order directing the Justice Department and the federal agencies to "dismantle" transnational criminal organizations such as MS-13.
Trump said that over the past three years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security, has deported more than 16,000 gang members and arrested more than 2,000 MS-13 members.
"We've also deported a lot of the MS-13s out of our country," Trump said.