What to Know
- The butchered, beaten bodies of best friends Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, and the remains of Jose Pena-Hernandez, were found in September
- Authorities had believed the slayings were connected to MS-13 gang activity, but no one had been charged with the killings until Thursday
- Police have arrested more than 120 known MS-13 gang members on a variety of charges as part of a larger takedown over the last few months
Two dozen alleged MS-13 members were rounded up across New York amid an ongoing takedown of the notorious street gang, homeland security officials announced Thursday.
Those arrested -- which included a Brentwood High School student -- were cuffed in New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley, Thursday, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Since 2017, 274 members of the gang have been arrested in the takedown dubbed "Operation Matador."
In all, 475 people have been arrested in the operation, which has been targeting members of street gangs since May 2017. The vast majority of those arrests have come in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
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It comes a week after more than a dozen other alleged MS-13 gangsters were indicted on charges including murder and other crimes in connection with the gruesome slayings of seven people including two teenage best friends Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas.
A friend of Cuevas' family, Barbara Medina, said Thursday's arrests prove the Trump administration is committed to battling the transnational gang.
"We are very proud of what law enforcement is doing today," she said.
The gang, also called Mara Salvatrucha, is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador. It grew after some members were deported, helping to turn that country into one of the most violent places in the world.
It is now a major international criminal enterprise with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states, including a heavy presence on Long Island, where its members have been blamed for at least 30 killings since 2010, in Queens and in parts of northern New Jersey.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both personally spoken on the gang, with Trump vowing to "destroy" the organization in 2017. He also invited Mickens and Cuevas' parents to his first State of the Union address in January.