El Salvador arrests 200 gang members in nationwide sweep

San Salvador (AFP) –


Prosecutors in El Salvador said Monday they had detained a man over the November killing of a cameraman and arrested more than 200 gang members in an overnight sweep following another journalist's murder.

News of the arrests came just hours after the body of Karla Turcios was found lying by a highway. The 33-year-old had been reported missing on Sunday by her family and the newspaper where she worked.

The arrest operation began late Sunday, with police targeting members of a number of gangs, including the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Barrio 18 and the smaller Mara Mao Mao, all of whom are facing charges of murder and extortion, the state prosecutors office said.

In a separate statement, Attorney General Douglas Melendez said they had also arrested the gunman behind the murder of Samuel Rivas, a cameraman for Canal 21 television who was gunned down on November 16 outside a church in Ilopango, a town just east of San Salvador.

Melendez identified the shooter as Wilber Ernesto Carranza, a 19-year-old member of the Barrio 18 gang, saying it was likely he killed Rivas as part of an initiation rite. Police are still looking for another man also present at the scene.

Following the discovery of the woman reporter's body on Sunday, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said he had ordered the security forces to carry out "an urgent and effective investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible."

It was not immediately clear if the arrest operation was directly linked to her murder.

Prosecutors said the overnight arrests, which took place in eight of El Salvador's 14 departments, were aimed at weakening the gang structures.

The suspects face charges of aggravated murder, aggravated femicide, terrorist organization and extortion, among others.

El Salvador has one of the world's highest homicide rates with close to 4,000 murder last year -- a figure that equates to 60 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The government blames powerful street gangs for much of the violence that has engulfed the poor Central American country.