The FBI in New Jersey is stepping up efforts to stamp out a ruthless, menacing gang. And it’s not the Bloods or the Crips.

“MS-13 is a very dangerous gang, not only for New Jersey but all over the United States. They conduct very violent acts,” said FBI special agent Daniel Brunner.

He said the gang routinely threatens and sometimes injures or kills other gang members and innocent civilians in the course of their operations.

“They are known to use violence and intimidation to get their means, to advance goals of MS 13 which are violence and control and respect.”

According to Brunner, some of the gang’s activities include “drug trafficking, extortion, intimidation, there’s a wide variety of criminal activities.”

He added the FBI is working with other law enforcement agencies in New Jersey to crack down on MS 13 because the gang has a history of “attacks with machetes, shootings, violence by intimidation, assault, not only on other gang members but it included civilians that were innocently caught in cross-fire.”

Not only is MS 13 targeting other gangs to control, but also civilians are getting caught in the crossfire.

He noted from 2010 to 2013 there was a concerted effort by MS 13 to control the entire city of Plainfield, and several people were injured and killed.

The violence continued until the FBI teamed up with local, county and state authorities to arrest more than a dozen gang leaders and send them to prison.

Federal authorities announced Saturday that Walter Yovany Gomez was arrested Friday in Virginia. They will now seek to extradite him to New Jersey, where he faces murder and racketeering charges. According to the FBI, Gomez was a member of the Plainfield Locos Salvatrucha gang, which is part of the larger MS-13 organization.

On the morning of the murder, Gomez and a co-conspirator hit the victim in the head with a baseball bat, slit his throat and stabbed him 17 times in the back with a screwdriver, the FBI said. The motive for the murder was a belief that the victim had been socializing with a rival gang member.

How many MS 13 gang members are currently living and working in New Jersey?

Brunner said more than a thousand, but it’s hard to know exactly because local subsets of the group, referred to as cliques, are located all over the state, and members of different cliques constantly move between Jersey, other states and El Salvador.

“Usually all the cliques will work together to advance the goals of MS 13,” he said.

While gang members in Jersey may be focused on one particular criminal activity, like gun running, he said “they do work closely with other cities, with other towns, so all the cliques, there’s constant movement between it.

Brunner noted for the most part, MS 13 does not work with other gangs.

“Sometimes allegiances are formed between gangs but more often than not we do not see that.”

He said MS stands for Mara Salvatrucha, a reference to brotherhood, and the number 13 refers to the Mexican Mafia, "M" being the 13th letter of the alphabet.

The gang was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

“It started with El Salvadorian members who were hanging out, listening to music and smoking marijuana, and when they were in prison they joined up to protect one another,” he said.

He said people who want to join the gang are asked to perform different tasks.

“You have to serve some time, show your loyalty to the gang. Some cliques require an act of violence, other cliques will require you to kill someone. It varies by region,” he said.

Once you become a gang member in good standing, you will have the letters MS tattooed onto your body.

“MS 13 is a clear and present danger to law enforcement, to the community,” said Brunner.

“The fact that other gangs may get more publicity or are better know in the news or pop culture doesn’t make MS 13 any less dangerous, they are a very dangerous threat.”

“We at the FBI will not stop until we have taken MS 13 out of this country, our goal is to eradicate MS 13.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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