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White House hypes threat from 'violent animals' of MS-13

© AFP/File | US President Donald Trump attends a roundtable discussion on the MS-13 gang in the Cabinet Room of the White House on February 6, 2018

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

The White House sought to underscore the threat from the largely Hispanic MS-13 gang Monday, describing its members as "violent animals."

Doubling down on Trump's recent controversial remarks about some migrants being "animals" -- which he later said were directed against MS-13 -- the White House sent a statement detailing atrocities committed by the group.

"WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIOLENT ANIMALS OF MS-13," said an email, which used the term "animals" 11 times.

The White House accused members of the gang of "stabbing a man more than 100 times and then decapitating him, dismembering him, and ripping his heart out of his body."

MS-13 started in Los Angeles in the 1980s, but has links to El Salvador.

It is thought to have around 10,000 members, in line with estimates a decade ago.

It is known for its brutal violence, but until the Trump administration had not been seen as a national security threat warranting sustained White House attention.

As he has sought to bolster the case for building a border wall, Trump has often focused on MS-13 in casting aspersions on immigration from Latin America.

Building "the wall" was one of Trump's signature campaign promises, but he has failed to convince the Republican-controlled Congress to pay for it.

According to an estimate from The Washington Office on Latin America, which campaigns on human rights in the Americas, MS-13 accounts for less than one percent of America's 1.4 million gang members.

© 2018 AFP