The Trump administration on Wednesday announced that a U.S. operation has successfully led to the arrest of multiple MS-13 leaders as well as the first time one of its gang members has been charged for terrorism-related offenses.
President TrumpDonald TrumpMcCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Biden's Supreme Court reform study panel notes 'considerable' risks to court expansion Bennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump MORE, Attorney General William BarrBill BarrBannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ Five takeaways: Report details Trump's election pressure campaign Biden slips further back to failed China policies MORE and other law enforcement officials in a press conference shared that Project Vulcan led to dozens of arrests, including 13 in Nevada and eight in New York.
"We just concluded a historic operation leading to the indictment and arrest of dozens of savage MS-13 leaders," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, describing the operation's success as part of his "all out campaign to destroy MS-13."
"This is probably the meanest, worst gang anywhere in the world, the MS-13 group. ... And a big dent was put in them, took place over the last few days and really over the last year," Trump said.
One key leader nabbed in the operation is Melgar Diaz, who was charged in the Eastern District of Virginia with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and commit acts of terrorism.
"This is the first time we've used terrorism-related charges against a member of MS-13," Barr said.
Barr noted that Diaz was responsible for illegal activities in 13 states and that he also "green-lighted" assassinations.
Other members arrested in the operation are facing multiple charges including racketeering related offenses, charges related to multiple murders and attempted murders, kidnapping, narcotics and weapons charges.
Barr also announced his decision to seek the death penalty against MS-13 member Alexi Saenz, who was indicted in 2017 in the Eastern District of New York.
The government alleges that he committed seven murders between 2016 and 2017, including the high-profile deaths of two Brentwood high school students, best friends Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, who were killed with a machete and baseball bat in 2016.
"The person we are seeking a death penalty against was involved in those murders as well as two African Americans who they saw on the street and thought were from a rival gang and just butchered," Barr said.
The president's top cop said the gang, which is based out of Central America, has historically crossed the U.S. border heading toward Houston before fanning out across the country.
Barr noted that while MS-13 has increasingly become involved in both human and narcotics trafficking, he said they are not driven by commercial interests; rather, they are focused on building the reputation of being the most savage on the street.
"It is about the honor of being the most savage, blood-thirsty person you can be and building up a reputation as a killer," Barr said, calling them a "death cult.”
The U.S. government, Barr said, is working with other countries including Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to help fight and destroy the gang. Barr noted in particular that U.S. law enforcement is working "very closely" with the El Salvadorians on this matter.
Trump in the press conference also highlighted that he directed the Justice Department to go to war against MS-13 early into his administration, in which he signed an executive order to establish a multiagency effort to dismantle transnational criminal organizations like MS-13.
"They are sick, deranged and we are taking care of it," the president said.