SAN SALVADOR – A homemade bomb exploded over the weekend at a gas station in eastern El Salvador, causing damage but no injuries, a police spokesman told Efe.
A second bomb was found at the gas station on Sunday, but it did not go off, a spokesman at the police station in Ciudad Barrios, a city in the eastern province of San Miguel, said.
The “homemade grenade” went off at the gas station in Barrio Concepcion and caused only “material damage,” the police spokesman said, without providing the time of the blast.
Investigators are trying to determine who staged the attack on the gas station, whose owner had been targeted in an extortion racket that may have been run by street gangs, the police spokesman said.
El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world, registering 4,354 murders and 3,185 criminal complaints about extortion last year, National Civilian Police, or PNC, figures show.
The Central American country has been dealing with a controversy unleashed by reports that the government helped “facilitate” a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Mara 18 gangs promoted by Bishop Fabio Colindres.
President Mauricio Funes confirmed last Wednesday that the process had taken place.
The truce only applies to murders and not to extortion, drug sales and other crimes committed by gang members, Funes said.
Extortion rackets and retail drug sales are the main sources of income for gangs, law enforcement officials say.
Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha are El Salvador’s two largest violent youth gangs, known as “maras.”
Mara Salvatrucha is a criminal organization that evolved on the streets of Los Angeles during the 1980s, with most of its members young Salvadorans whose parents fled their nation’s erstwhile civil war for the United States.
Because many of the gang members were born in El Salvador, they were subject to deportation when rounded up during immigration crackdowns in California in the 1990s.
Sent “home” to a land they barely knew, they formed gangs that spread throughout El Salvador and to neighboring countries in Central America, where membership is now counted in the tens, or even hundreds of thousands, and gang members are engaged in murder, drug dealing, kidnapping and people smuggling.
In addition to those activities, gang members are blamed throughout Central America for a spike in rapes and robberies, and for running protection rackets to extort “taxes” from bus companies and owners of small businesses.
Police estimate that some 10,000 gang members, most of them affiliated either with Mara 18 or Mara Salvatrucha operate in El Salvador. EFE