The ruling comes amid escalating violence. Fourteen Barrio 18 members were strangled or stabbed to death inside Quezaltepeque prison in the west of the country on Aug. 22—part of a growing wave of prison violence throughout the region. Authorities said the death orders came from gang leaders in San Francisco Gotera prison in the country’s east, in an internal purge of Barrio 18.
At the end of July, gangs paralyzed the capital San Salvador, killing at least nine bus-drivers to enforce a “strike” called to oppose the government crackdown. After the end of the strike, when transit operators got back on the road with increased security, authorities issued at least 300 arrest warrants for gang members accused of “terrorism.”
Warfare between the rival gang networks over the cocaine trade through El Salvador has made the country the most deadly in the region, overtaking Honduras for the number-one slot this year. Homicides are now up to an average of 16 a day, with 3,840 killed so far this year in the country of 6.4 million people. The violence is at a level rivaling that during El Salvador’s civil war that ended in 1992. A 2012 government-brokered truce between the rival networks led to a temporary drop in gang violence, but began to break down the following year. The current violence now surpasses pre-truce levels.