10. AREA BOYS
TERRITORY: Lagos, Nigeria
ACTIVITIES: drug trafficking, extortion, murder, inciting riots
MEMBERSHIP: over 35,000
Over the past three decades, Nigeria’s Area Boys have gone from young kids committing crimes of opportunity to a massive if still largely unorganised street gang responsible for acts of extortion and murder.
Local authorities who have made a number of failed humanitarian attempts to eliminate the gang, tie the rising level of violence to a depressed economy, high unemployment and the increasing prevalence of drug addiction among the gang’s members.
9. JAMAICAN POSSE
TERRITORY: Jamaica, Eastern United States, UK (known as Yardies)
ACTIVITIES: drug and gun trafficking, witness intimidation, murder
MEMBERSHIP: 13,000 to 20,000
Known for their use of extreme violence and preference for high-powered weapons of war, like the MAC-10. The Jamaican Posse has affiliation with the two major political parties in Jamaica, the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), as well as the island’s Police force and the military.
Authorities have identified dozens of individual Posses within the wider gang. The two most often cited are the Spangler posse, aligned with the PNP, and the Shower posse (reportedly taking it’s name from the ‘shower of bullets’ it dispenses on enemies), aligned with the JLP.
8. WAH CHING
TERRITORY: Hong Kong, San Francisco, Los Angeles
ACTIVITIES: drug and gun trafficking, extortion, murder, software piracy, burglary, gambling, prostitution, loan sharking
MEMBERSHIP: over 7000
By some accounts, the origin of Wah Ching go back 300 years, while others date them back to the mid-1960s. Whatever the case, their criminal activities are highly diversified, making them extraordinarily good at one thing in particular: making money.
The Wah Chings are also violent and sophisticated, as evident in two 1995 raids in Los Angeles that uncovered an underground factory run by the Wah Ching featuring $18 million in counterfeit Microsoft products. The raids also found weapons and explosives, namely TNT and C-4.
7. PRIMEIRO COMANDO DA CAPITAL (PCC)
TERRITORY: Brazilian Prison System
ACTIVITIES: drug and gun trafficking, murder, extortion, prison riots, prison breaks, kidnapping
MEMBERSHIP: over 6000
Formed in 1993, at Sao Paulo’s Taubate Prison, PCC is unlike many gangs in that they have a political agenda, namely to fight the oppressive conditions of the over crowded prisons.
Members are required to take an oath and pay monthly fees that vary depending whether one is in prison or not.
Although most members are incarcerated, they’re well organised, operating with a network of loyalists in and out of prison. In 2006, they flexed their considerable muscle by orchestrating synchronised, simultaneous rebellions in 79 state prisons while inciting violence and anarchy in the city of Sao Paulo.
6. ARYAN BROTHERHOOD (AB)
TERRITORY: U.S Federal and State Prison Systems
ACTIVITIES: drug trafficking, conspiracy, murder, racketeering, contract killing
MEMBERSHIP: over 15,000
Dating back to 1964, the Aryan Brotherhood has a huge presence in the U.S Federal Prison system, especially in California.
They are well organised and well connected in and out of prison, and they lack the one card authorities could play against them: fear of punishment. What more can you do to a guy on a life sentence with no parole? Not even the death penalty carries any weight.
Consequently, the AB have become extraordinary killers. According to the FBI, members make up about one-tenth of 1% of the entire U.S prison population, but they’re responsible for 18% of all prison murders.
TERRITORY: Los Angeles
ACTIVITIES: Murder, drug trafficking, robbery, extortion
MEMBERSHIP: 15,000 to 30,000
In L.A, experts estimate that there are about 75 blood gangs (compared to over 200 blood gangs).
They have traditionally been understood chiefly through their rivalry with the Crips. During the 1980s for example, one of the bloodiest rivalries in the history of Los Angeles gangs took place between the Bounty Hunters, one of the area’s largest Blood gangs, and the Grape Street Crips.
Blood gangs were originally just anti-Crips gangs formed in neighbourhood alarmed by the rapid spread of Crips gangs. By the mid-1970s, they unified under the name Bloods (a move that contributes to their reputation as being better organised than the Crips), and the wider rivalry between the two gangs started to take shape.
4. 18TH STREET GANG
TERRITORY: Los Angeles, Western and Southern U.S, Central America
ACTIVITIES: drug and gun trafficking, robbery, extortion, murder, contract killing, prostitution
With 50,000 members in Central America, tens of thousands in the U.S, and believed by some to be operating in 37 states and 10 foreign countries, the 18th Street Gang is organised, disciplined and sophisticated, and depending on which experts you believe, it is even better organised than its primary rival, MS-13.
Arguably, the 18th Street Gang is the largest gang in Los Angeles county, even though the estimated 15,000 L.A area members are spread out into some two dozens individual gangs held together by label only.
Furthermore, some experts dispute the perception that gangs like 18th Street Gang have any true connection with the Central American gangs under the same name, like Mara 18.
TERRITORY: Nairobi, Kenya
ACTIVITIES: murder, racketeering, extortion, mutilation, intimidation
MEMBERSHIP: 100,000 to 500,00
In the Gikuyu language spoken in Kenya, the word ‘mungiki’ means multitude, a fitting name for this massive ethnic gang that has developed a reputation for severe brutality – which they often dole out by way of machete and whose calling card in the recent past was nothing short of a severed human head on a stick.
They operate in Nairobi’s larger slums such as Mathare, targeting other ethnic groups and exerting tremendous political clout.
Despite their enormous size, little is known or fully understood about the Mungiki – a trait that contributes to the terror they inspire.
TERRITORY: Los Angeles
ACTIVITIES: drug trafficking, robbery, extortion, ID theft
The Crips are among the oldest and most notorious street gangs. Their origin dates back to a teenager named Raymond Washington, who legends say advocated fist and not guns.
From its earliest days, one characteristics of the Crips has remained consistent: an inability to develop a single, centralised power structure. Like many other street gangs, the Crips are actually a loose confederation of hundreds of localised sets across the U.S. In fact, despite their well known rivalry with the Bloods, a Crip is three times more likely to kill another Crip than he is to kill a Blood.
The long, violent rivalry between two Crip gangs, the Eight Tray Gangsters and the Rolling 60 Crips, illustrates this point.
1. MARA SALVATRUCHA (MS-13)
TERRITORY: Central America, the United States
ACTIVITIES: drugs, guns and human trafficking, murder, contract killing, extortion, kidnapping.
Right now, the street gang getting the most attention around the world is the MS-13. The gang is a product of the cold war, born of refugees from the 1980s Salvadoran civil war who landed in Los Angeles.
For a street gang, the MS-13 operates with extreme organisational efficiency. In fact, they carry out investigations and hold local and regional meetings.
The recent FBI crackdown on the group which included the FBI’s declaration that MS-13 is America’s most violent gang will likely not scare them – this is the gang who kidnapped and killed the son of the Honduran President.
They have inspired legislation in Honduras and El Salvador that so harshly targets gang members that even human rights Organisations are crying foul.
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