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Fourteen members of one of El Salvador's most powerful street gangs killed in prison

NewsBy Neil Fetherston
Fourteen members of one of El Salvador's most powerful street gangs killed in prison

Fourteen members of one of El Salvador's most powerful street gangs were killed in a prison on Saturday in what appeared to be an internal gang purge, authorities said.

El Salvador has been racked by rising violence over the past year, with murders surging since the breakdown of a gang truce between the Barrio 18 group and their rivals, the Mara Salvatrucha.

El Salvador's central prison authority said the killings took place in a penitentiary in Quetzaltepeque, some 25 km (16 miles) northwest of the capital San Salvador.

The bodies of the victims were found in various parts of the prison.

The correctional facility held around 1,000 inmates, who authorities said were all members of the Barrio 18 gang.

The prison authority described the killings as a "purge action" by the gang, but did not give further details.

The dead are believed to have belonged to a Barrio 18 section known as the "faccion revolucionarios", or revolutionaries' faction, suspected of forcing bus drivers into a violence-plagued strike in late July, the authorities said.

In the year through August 19, about 3,840 homicides had been registered in the Central American country of 6.4 million people, a number just short of the tally for all of 2014.

Prison officials were alerted when some members of the "Revolutionaries" faction of the gang failed to return to their cells.

Security agents and riot police sprang into action and found the bodies among some garbage bins.

The Directorate General of Prisons, on Twitter, said it was "presumed to be an act of purification among gang members." 

The deaths underline how gang violence has made El Salvador one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

On Wednesday, police said there were at least 125 murders in just three days in the country, a staggering toll even by El Salvador's standards.

"These are worrisome numbers. These are Salvadorans who are dying. Regardless of who is a gang member or not," National Police chief Mauricio Ramirez told reporters.

There were 3,332 murders between January and June, up from 2,191 a year earlier, government data show. 

The gangs have some 72,000 members, including 13,000 behind bars.