POLICE have cracked down on violent Latin American gangs in Spain, arresting 35 gang members in dramatic raids across the country.
More than 300 Guardia Civil officers carried out a series of 28 raids against the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang, or MS-13, which originated in El Salvador.
As well as detaining 35 suspected leading gang members, aged between 17 and 25, police seized knives, fake guns, drugs and documents in the raids in several Spanish regions, including the cities of Madrid and Barcelona.
“MS-13 is a dangerous and violent criminal organization well represented in several American countries where they cause serious security problems and destabilization,” a police spokesperson said.
Many of those arrested in Monday’s raids, which include nationals from El Salvador, Romania, Ecuador and Bolivia, had distinctive tattoos showing their allegiance to the gang.
Latin American gangs represent a growing threat in Spain, as high levels of youth unemployment following the financial crisis have left young people feeling marginalised.
Madrid police chief inspector Ricardo Gabaldon estimated there are around 300 street gang members in the poorest neighbourhoods in Madrid, mostly aged between 14 and 25.
He added that the gangs first became a problem in 2003, but that the problem has grown dramatically as levels of immigration increase.
Vladimir Paspuel, head of the Spain-Ecuador association Ruminahui, which offers support to young gang members, insisted: “In a country with 54% youth unemployment, what opportunity is society giving them?
“We are not offering them anything. We are offering them the street.”