Washington Law enforcement officials from five countries said Wednesday they are struggling to deal with the street gang called MS-13 that is plaguing communities from the United States to Central America.
A meeting at FBI headquarters launched an unprecedented effort to make inroads against what officials called "a culture of violence."
"We're trying to build networks of communication for sharing historical and current data on MS-13 members," said Deborah Strebel Pierce, deputy assistant director for the FBI criminal investigative division.
Shorthand for Mara Salvatrucha, which loosely translates to guerrilla gang, MS-13 is a Latin American gang founded in Los Angeles by refugees from El Salvador. Members also come from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
Never before has there been such an international law enforcement effort targeting a street gang, which in the case of MS-13 has mushroomed into the size of a small army.
El Salvador is trying to dismantle an MS-13 structure that numbers in the thousands, Douglas Omar Garcia Funes of that country's national police force told reporters during the daylong meeting.
U.S. authorities estimate MS-13 has some 10,000 members in more than 30 states.
Three members of the Los Angeles crew moved to the Washington area in 1993 to recruit, and by this past spring there were some 1,500 members in the area, an FBI official recently told Congress.
The FBI is coordinating a law enforcement investigative effort that other agencies and countries are helping to carry out.
Pierce said a rapid flow of information among all the participants in the law enforcement campaign is a key to reining in the gang.
Police believe the stabbings of six teenagers last week in the Washington suburbs were the work of MS-13.
The gang has carried out beheadings and grenade attacks in Central America and hacked enemies with machetes in cities along the East Coast in the United States.