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Violent MS-13 Gang Has More Than 200 Hardcore Members on Long Island, Preys on New Immigrants: FBI

Whether it's the two teenage girls in Brentwood or the four young friends found killed in Central Islip, victims of the violent MS-13 gang are turning up in alarming numbers on Long Island. 

It comes as no surprise to the head of the FBI's Long Island gang task force, Geraldine Hart, who says violence is that gang's prime business. 

"They bolster their ranking among other gangs by using violence," she told News 4 in an exclusive interview.

The gang that originated in El Salvador has more than 200 hardcore members on Long Island, and they're unafraid to kill for no reason. The FBI has now joined the investigation into the murders of young people on Long Island in recent months.

MS-13, also called Mara Salvatrucha, is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador. It grew after some members were deported to El Salvador, helping to turn that country into one of the most violent places in the world.

It's now a major international criminal enterprise with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states.

MS-13 often looks to provide the kind of personal relationship that newly arrived immigrants lack, according to the FBI. Local gang members are getting direction from gang leaders in El Salvador. 

"This is not a local problem. This is a national and international problem. We know that there are direct links from El Salvador up here into the New York area," the FBI's Michael Osborn told News 4. 

Gang violence has been a problem in Central Islip, Brentwood and other Long Island communities for more than a decade. Brentwood and Central Islip are neighboring communities comprised of large populations of working class Hispanic and other minorities, located about 2.5 miles apart.

The gang problem is so systemic in Suffolk County that outreach groups like Strong Youth Start are working with kids in middle school to show them there are alternatives to life with the gangs.

"It's easy to recruit in schools," said Luis Amador, who works with Strong Youth. "A lot of these kids, when they come to this country, they don't have support system."

Last month, the task force scored a major victory with the arrests of a number of MS-13 gang leaders, but the murders in Central Islip earlier this month served as a reminder of what law enforcement is up against.

"I know the community may be frustrated but I am here to say we are in this until the end," said Osborn. 

Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini has echoed the sentiment in the recent weeks. 

"Obviously we know the community is very on edge," said Sini. "We will be enhancing patrols in the area significantly and for an indefinite period of time." 

Sini has also said that part of the MS-13 trademark throughout the country is to prey on recent immigrants.

"There's a host of factors as to why MS-13 would prey on immigrant families, but it boils down to the fact that MS-13, they are individuals who prey on the vulnerable," he said. "They engage in acts of violence, they engage in acts of savagery."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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