The 26 gang members are charged with various crimes, including seven murders, 14 attempted murders, kidnapping and robbery, the indictment says.
They are associated with the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, gang, which originated in Central America and now operates throughout the U.S., Acting U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said at a news conference. The gang was first detected in suburban Gwinnett and DeKalb counties in 1998 but became significantly more violent starting in 2005, she said.
The gang members used violence and threats to frighten their victims and community members to keep them from helping law enforcement agents identify, catch and prosecute them, the indictment says.
"This case is really a culmination of a battle that is being fought in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties and has been for the last 10 years," said Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter. "In my opinion, this is not the end. This is a serious blow to MS-13 but the battle will continue."
Metro Atlanta has become a distribution hub for Mexican drug cartels, but Yates said MS-13 is based in other Central American countries and is not connected to the Mexican cartels. MS-13 tends to be motivated more by status and gaining territory than by profit, she said.
Of the 26 people listed in the indictment, 22 are in custody. Most are illegal immigrants who will face criminal prosecution in this country before they are deported, said Kenneth Smith of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which spearheaded the two-year investigation with help from various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.