El_Salvador Jail

A court in El Salvador on Thursday held a virtual sentencing hearing for 492 leaders of the feared Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, accused of thousands of crimes, including more than 500 homicides.

The MS-13 leaders are "linked to 37,402 crimes, committed between 2012 and 2022," the attorney general's office wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"More than 500 homicides, disappearances, extortion, arms trafficking, and human trafficking are being attributed to this group," said Max Munoz, the deputy director of the anti-crime prosecutor's office, in a video.

The gang leaders are also accused of "rebellion to the detriment of El Salvador's democratic system" for seeking to control part of the country's territory, and of "collecting taxes, exercising their own justice and having an armed group to achieve these ends," the prosecutor added.

The judge's ruling is expected Friday, Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado wrote on X.

The gang leaders "sowed terror" for decades and "will pay for every life" taken, he said.

The hearing was held days after President Nayib Bukele proclaimed his landslide reelection victory, attributed to a wildly popular crackdown on violent gangs.

Bukele has presided over a war on gangs that has turned what was once one of the world's most violent countries into one where people say they finally feel safe.

His government has rounded up more than 75,000 presumed members of gangs blamed for the deaths of some 120,000 civilians in three decades.

The crackdown has come with accusations of arbitrary arrests, inhumane prison conditions, and even torture, with human rights organizations expressing concerns.

The collective trials "leave many doubts," said Miguel Montenegro, coordinator of the Human Rights Commission.

"If it is proven that they are leaders and that they have committed serious crimes against the population, it seems to me that they should suffer a fair trial and that they can really be condemned," he said.