El Salvador's supreme court designated the country's street gangs and those who finance them as “terrorist” groups on Monday.
The court said the well-known Marasalvatrucha or MS-13 gang and any other gang that attempts to claim powers that belong to the state would be considered “terrorists.” It defined terrorism as the organized and systematic exercise of violence.
The court's declaration came as a denial to four attempts to declare the country's Special Law Against Terrorist Acts unconstitutional. The court found that telephone wiretaps and the freezing of funds belonging to third parties tied to what the state calls “terrorist” groups are constitutional, among other issues.
The designation as terrorists means that gang members may be charged under anti-terrorism laws, which carry longer prison sentences. Terrorism charges carry maximum penalties of up to 60 years, compared to up to 20 years for homicide or up to 50 years for aggravated homicide.
The court spoke on the same day that El Salvador's attorney general said an order to kill gang members in a prison over the weekend came from inside another prison.
Luis Martinez said Monday that the order to kill 14 people on Saturday inside the Quezaltepeque prison in western El Salvador came from the San Francisco Gotera prison in the eastern part of the country. Authorities said the killings, of members of the 18th Street Revolutionaries gang, were part of an internal "purge." All the victims were strangled or stabbed to death on Saturday.
Martinez said authorities had information that a mass killing in a prison was coming, but they did not know where or when.
These homicides were among 45 registered in the country Saturday; another 31 occurred on Sunday.
The gangs have intensified their attacks in recent weeks in an attempt to pressure the government into negotiations. But the government has refused to bow to the gangs and has kept their leaders in custody in maximum-security prisons.