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Central American gang members charged with three New York murders

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. law enforcement authorities on Thursday charged alleged members of the Central American-based MS-13 gang with the brutal murders of three Long Island high school students last year, as authorities press their campaign against a gang they describe as a criminal enterprise.

The charges were part of a newly expanded 41-count federal indictment against 13 alleged gang members, some of whom were charged with four other murders last year.

Alleged members of the gang, also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, were also charged with attacking two other people and conspiring to distribute marijuana in the indictment, which was unsealed on Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Robert Capers, whose Brooklyn office covers Long Island, said members of MS-13 engage in murder, assault, extortion and drug trafficking, and entrench themselves into communities, "both by sending gang members to illegally enter the United States from Central America and by recruiting new members from our schools and neighborhoods."

The gang's leaders are based in El Salvador and Honduras, he said.

Of the 13 defendants, one had been deported but re-entered the United States illegally, nine are in the country illegally, one is a permanent U.S. resident and two are U.S. citizens, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Four of the defendants - Alexi Saenz, Jairo Saenz, Selvin Chavez and Enrique Portillo - were charged with the Sept. 13 murders of two Brentwood High School girls, Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas. The girls were attacked with baseball bats and a machete about a week after an altercation with gang members, the indictment said.

Four others - German Cruz, Elmer Alexander Lopez and two unidentified defendants who are still at large - were charged with the June 3 murder of fellow gang member Jose Pena, who was a student at Brentwood High School. Believing that Pena broke MS-13 rules, the gang members drove him to a remote location where they stabbed and slashed him, and left him until his remains were recovered on Oct. 17, the indictment said.

The 11 defendants named in the case range in age from 18 to 29.

Two other alleged MS-13 members, who were juveniles at the time, were charged in the Mickens and Cuevas murders, and a third was charged in the Pena murder, the U.S. Attorney's office said. Those cases remain under seal.

The indictment also charged alleged gang members with attacking two other people with pipes and baseball bats, and selling marijuana to finance the purchase of weapons and to send money to MS-13 leaders in El Salvador. During the arrests on Thursday of four of the suspects, authorities said they recovered marijuana and several weapons, including a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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