By Associated Press Writer
updated 6/21/2010 5:52:07 PM ET 2010-06-21T21:52:07

Gang members opened fire on a bus full of travelers, doused it with gasoline and set it on fire, killing at least 14 on the outskirts of El Salvador's capital, officials said Monday.

Violent youth gangs have besieged the public transit system in this small Central American nation to extort bus workers and largely impoverished commuters and travelers.

The armed assault was the deadliest attack this year against a passenger bus. The government called it an act of terrorism and convened an emergency meeting of the security Cabinet.

The attack took place Sunday night in a gang-plagued part of the municipality of Mejicanos, just outside San Salvador, National Police Commissioner Carlos Ascencio said. At least 14 people were killed and 16 were injured, he said.

Police who reached the scene had to break glass to free passengers from flames, he said.

Moments later, gang members opened fire on another bus in the same neighborhood, killing two people.

President Mauricio Funes said seven suspects had been detained in the bus burning, most accused of being members of the Mara 18 street gang. He said his security Cabinet was meeting to bolster security in the country.

"This is an act that seeks to generate terror among the population," Funes said. "The police are on top of this. We have made seven arrests, and among those captured are the perpetrators and perhaps the masterminds."

Justice Minister Manuel Melgar called the attack "a typical terrorist act," but said the motive was under investigation.

At least 217 drivers and other employees of El Salvador's public transport industry have been killed over the last year and a half in suspected gang attacks, said Catalino Miranda, president of the national federation of transport workers and businessmen. Most victims were shot to death.

He said more than 50 buses had been set on fire. Three of the burnings, including Sunday's attack, caused deaths. Two people were killed in a bus burning earlier this year, and one was killed last year.

Miranda estimated extortion demands had cost the industry some $18 million in 2009.

El Salvador has an estimated 13,500 gang members, some 5,700 of whom are in prison. It is one of Latin America's most violent countries.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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