Salvadoran troops surround a major city in crackdown on criminal gangs
Published: Dec 04, 2022 09:06 PM Updated: Dec 04, 2022 09:01 PM
People are seen at a store where Bitcoin is accepted in El Zonte, El Salvador on Saturday. Photo: AFP

People are seen at a store where Bitcoin is accepted in El Zonte, El Salvador on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Around 10,000 Salvadoran army troops and police officers surrounded the populous city of Soyapango, on the outskirts of capital San Salvador, as the government stepped up its fight against criminal gangs, President Nayib Bukele announced Saturday.

The operation was part of a state of emergency declared by Bukele earlier in 2022’s spring following a surge in gang violence.

“As of this moment, the municipality of Soyapango is totally surrounded,” Bukele said on Twitter, adding that 8,500 soldiers and 1,500 agents have been deployed.

The president had announced in November a plan to use troops to surround cities while house-by-house searches are conducted for gang members. Soyapango is the first city subjected to that approach.

Earlier on Saturday, soldiers and police took up positions on all of the city’s access roads, allowing no one in or out without first being searched.

Bukele said uniformed officers would be “removing, one by one, all the gang members who are still there.”

Since Bukele declared the state of emergency in March, more than 58,000 suspected gang members have been arrested.

Soyapango, one of the country’s largest cities, has long been considered unsafe due to gang activity. A few months ago the authorities began removing the graffiti that gangs use to mark their territory.

Soyapango Mayor Nercy Montano said earlier this week that government actions in the city had brought “an enormous improvement” in safety. 

The nationwide state of emergency, which allows detention without court order, followed a surge in violence that claimed 87 lives between March 25 and 27.

An AFP journalist witnessed a heavy presence of soldiers and policemen in Soyapango neighborhoods. Carrying assault rifles, they searched deliberately for gang members, while army vehicles and police cars cruised slowly through the streets.

Salvadoran police also deployed drones to spot suspicious movements from the air.