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Some sources state the gang is named for La Mara, a street gang in San Salvador, and the Salvatrucha guerrillas who fought in the Salvadoran Civil War.
Additionally, the word mara means gang in Caliche slang and is taken from marabunta, the name of a fierce type of ant.
They are notorious for their violence and a subcultural moral code based on merciless retribution.
This cruelty of the distinguished members of the "Maras" or "Mareros" earned them a path to be recruited by the Sinaloa Cartel battling against Los Zetas in an ongoing drug war in Mexico.
"Salvatrucha" may be a combination of the words Salvadoran and trucha, a Caliche word for being alert.
The term "Salvatruchas" has been explained as a reference to Salvadorian peasants trained to become guerrilla fighters, referred to as "Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front." Minors make up the majority of suspects arrested for killings attributed to MS-13.
Strength numbers include more than 10,000 nationally and 2,000 on Long Island, New York.
There is also a presence of MS-13 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Many school districts were reluctant to admit unaccompanied teenagers when they arrived from Central America, which left them home alone and vulnerable to gang recruitment.
Members of Mara Salvatrucha, like members of most modern American gangs, utilize a system of hand signs for purposes of identification and communication.
On May 13, 2006, Ernesto "Smokey" Miranda, a former high-ranking soldier and one of the founders of Mara Salvatrucha, was murdered at his home in El Salvador a few hours after declining to attend a party for a gang member who had just been released from prison.
He had begun studying law and working to keep children out of gangs.