Police in Guatemala have announced the capture of one of the most feared leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha gang – a criminal cartel that has terrorised Central America and the United States, and whose destruction has been prioritised by President Donald Trump.
Angel Gabriel Reyes Marroquin, known as Blanco or White, was captured in the early hours of Friday at his home in Chimaltenango, 30 miles west of Guatemala City.
Police believe he is responsible for 10 murders the past month alone.
“He is the ‘ranflero’ (head) of the Locos Centrales unit of the Mara Salvatrucha,” said Pablo Castillo, police spokesman.
Reyes is believed to be behind the storming of one of Guatemala City’s largest hospitals in August, leading his men into the wards to free another gang member, Anderson Daniel Cabrera Cifuentes, who was undergoing tests. Seven people were killed and 12 wounded in the incident at the Roosevelt Hospital, which caused outrage in the country. Cabrera escaped with Reyes.
Reyes was an infamous figure in Guatemala.
In December 2013 he was captured in El Salvador, aged 28, when travelling to a regional gathering of gang leaders. He was described as one of nine national leaders of the Mara Salvatruchas, and was accused of 287 murders.
Reyes was extradited to Guatemala and sent to the El Boquerón prison in Culiapa, 50 miles south of Guatemala City.
But eight months after his arrest he escaped, freed by his fellow gang members in a raid on a hospital where he was receiving treatment.
His arrest is a triumph for the Guatemalan authorities, who have come under pressure from the United States to do more to break up their gangs.
MS-13, as it is known, was founded in Los Angeles by young Salvadoran migrants. In the 1990s the US deported tens of thousands of undocumented gang members back to Central America, where the gangs flourished. There are now believed to be more than 70,000 members in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Mr Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have made rounding up gang members in the US a priority, with Mr Trump in July delivering a fiery speech on Long Island in New York – the site of a surge in gang violence.
In the 18 months preceeding his speech the gang had been implicated in 17 murders in Long Island.
Mr Trump said they had “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighbourhoods into blood-stained killing fields.” He said the gang members “stomp on their victims,” “slash at them with machetes,” and stab them with knives.