SAN SALVADOR (EFE) – Members of El Salvador’s dreaded Mara 18 street gang attacked a group of soccer players and fans who had traveled from one central town to another for a friendly game, obliging them to lay down on the ground, where six were killed with gunshots to the head, police said Monday.
They said one of the assailants also died following Sunday’s massacre on the southern outskirts of Zacatecoluca, apparently stabbed to death by others at the scene.
Victims of the Mara attack were four young men, who were presumably going to play in the game, and a middle-aged and elderly man.
The dead gang member, according to reports, could not be identified and, according to preliminary police investigations, he had been attacked with knives, presumably by local inhabitants who tried to defend the attack victims.
The six victims of the attack came from the town of San Juan Nonualco in La Paz province. They had arrived there to play in a soccer match.
Later Monday, President Tony Saca said police arrested nine gang members suspected in the killings and vowed to subject them to his “Super Hard Hand” anti-crime program. Saca launched that program in August 2004, touting it as an expanded and improved version of his predecessor’s “Hard Hand” initiative.
Salvadoran authorities estimate that the gangs have a total nationwide membership of around 10,000, with more than 4,000 suspected gangsters now behind bars.
Saca said that the assailants in Sunday’s bloodbath “apparently invited the murdered people to join the mara, and killed them for refusing.”
The President took the opportunity to again urge lawmakers to approve a bill to establish a witness-protection program and other measures cracking down on protection rackets, which represent an important source of revenue for the gangs.
Saca said both proposals are essential parts of his strategy to battle the groups responsible for atrocities like Sunday’s massacre.