Sessions announces drug gang crackdown during speech in Philadelphia

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Sessions announces gang crackdown: John Rawlins reports during Action News at 12:30 p.m. on October 23, 2017. (WPVI)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday promised an even stricter crackdown on the brutal MS-13 street gang, whose members are suspected in a series of killings in the suburbs of New York City.

The attorney general designated the Central American gang as a "priority" for the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. The designation directs prosecutors to pursue all legal avenues, including racketeering, gun and tax laws, to target the gang, Sessions said.

"MS-13 members brutally rape, rob, extort and murder," Sessions told hundreds of police executives at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia.

"With more than 40,000 members worldwide - including 10,000 in the United States - MS-13 threatens the lives and well-being of each and every family everywhere they infest."

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AG Jeff Sessions in Philadelphia: Sarah Bloomquist reports during Action News at Noon on October 23, 2017.

The gang has become a prime target of President Donald Trump's administration amid its broader crackdown on immigration. MS-13, or La Mara Salvatrucha, is generally known for extortion and human trafficking rather than distributing and selling narcotics.

Members of the gang are suspected of committing several high-profile killings in New York, Maryland and Virginia. The gang's violence drew Trump's attention after a pair of teenage girls was beaten and hacked to death in a suspected gang attack on Long Island.

They were among 22 people believed to have been killed by the gang on Long Island since the start of 2016. Most of the people arrested in those killings were in the U.S. illegally, law enforcement officials have said.

After Trump took office, the Republican directed federal law enforcement officials to focus resources on combating transnational gangs, including MS-13. But the new designation will allow officials to target MS-13 with a "renewed vigor and a sharpened focus," said Sessions, who flew to El Salvador in July, in part to learn more about how the gang's activities there affect crime in the U.S.

MS-13 originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s, then entrenched itself in Central America when its leaders were deported.

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philadelphia newsillegal drugsms-13 gangCenter City Philadelphia
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