Jeff Sessions Visiting Long Island as MS-13 Gang Violence Spikes

A spate of brutal violence linked to a Central American street gang has prompted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to schedule a visit to Long Island Friday, as authorities announced new measures to try to stop the wave of slayings.

The hacked-up bodies of four young people found in a Central Islip park earlier this month were linked to MS-13, a notorious gang with roots in El Salvador.

Over the past 16 months, the group is believed responsible for 15 homicides in Suffolk county. Eight of those killed were high-school kids.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum security jail in Zacatecoluca
A tattooed Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang member waits to be escorted upon his arrival at the maximum security jail in Zacatecoluca on Nov. 16. Jose Cabezas / Reuters

On Friday, Sessions was due to speak with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials about efforts to tackle the killings. In a speech last week he called the gang "a symbol of this plague that has spread across our country and into our communities," and said that gangs such as MS-13 posed "one of the gravest threats to American safety."

The Trump administration blames Barack Obama's immigration policies for allowing the gang to grow in the U.S. A record 2.8 million immigrants were deported under the former president, and in 2012 Obama designated MS-13 as a transnational criminal group subject to Treasury Department sanctions.

Founded in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing El Salvador's civil war, the gang's name stands for "Mara Salvatrucha," meaning "gang of Salvadorean guys."

It adopted an urban culture of tattoos, hand signs and colored clothing, but a crackdown in the 1990s saw many of their number deported — exporting their brand of crime back to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Today, these are some of the most violent nations in the world.

Officials estimate MS-13 has 30,000 members internationally and around 6,000 across 46 U.S. states. The gang has had a presence in Long Island for more than a decade but has become more violent since 2016.

Image: Crime scene investigators search woodland near where the victims were found
Crime scene investigators search woodland near to where the victims were found in Central Islip. Seth Wenig / AP, file

It operates by recruiting young people, often unaccompanied children, from Central America, and its members "seduce them into a life of gang violence," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference Wednesday.

Cuomo was announcing a new task force — a "high-intensity gang unit" — of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials designed to tackle MS-13.

"Our job is to say to MS-13, 'Enough is enough,'" he said. "We will not rest until MS-13 is put out of business."

The new unit will include increased patrols, state-backed intelligence operations, and state-of-the-art surveillance equipment.

"Their currency is fear and intimidation, and they are getting more outrageous and more obnoxious in their activities," Cuomo said.