In fact, when it comes to terrorism, strangers are, generally, the ambit of their activities.
There have been some activities, however, that have targeted innocent civilians and the motives and actions, in these cases, have ominously paralleled terrorist stratagems and motivations. A case in kind occurred in December, 2004, when an intercity bus in Honduras, Central America was intercepted and sprayed with machine gunfire and 28 passengers, mainly women and children, were killed first by the gunfire then by the assailants climbing abroad the bus and methodically executing the passengers17. The objective was a protest against the Honduran government who had recently reinstated the death penalty.
Another similarity is in their pattern of operation where, like al-Quida, they operate in a form of loose, unstructured cells that form a global dispersed network. Similarly, too, their individual ceils are devoted to similar activities and some are quite sophisticated. These include activities such as intelligence gathering, recruitment, and logistics, as well as operation of their regular activities. According to Sullivan 18, this is the representation of third-generation gangs where "because of their attributes.. they can be considered net warriors" 19 which are a "key factor to the rise of non-state or criminal-solders" (ibid).
Street gangs employ children as 'warriors' too just as terrorists organizations do 20
Their greatest parallel come from the fact that they shatter state cohesion in physical, moral, and cognitive means just as terrorist organizations do. Physical means, for instance by preventing police patrols or physically causing fear within the country; moral means by exposing inequalities (such as MS-13 does in LA) about which the state cannot / will not address; and moral means by questioning the state's commitment to a given population (here it is to Central American immigrants by deporting them which only caused intensification of their membership).
The main difference is that whilst terrorism, allegedly, has the country's welfare as its ideological puropose and serves a political purpose, MS-13, on the whole, is driven by causeless and arbitraray cruelty and egotism. Revenge is a necessary factor of its existence and deliberate and irrational disregard of law is part of its makeup. Yet, this irrational disregard of the law is not fueled by ideological reasons but rather by pragmatic, selfishness-based considerations. Even their abettence of cartel-based activities, for instance, are founded on business propostions rather than on a mission to abet drugs from ideological stance. The existence of gangs, such as the MS-13, are propelled (or, at least were initially instigated) by need for survival. Their hardened existence, reinforced by a criminal, sociopathic element, drove them on to more extreme acts. Terrorism, on the other hand, is, generally, based on ideological impulsions with perpetrators (such as bin Laden), occassionally, featuring wealthy and privileged backgrounds.
Finally, MS-13-13 operates in a "Direct/triadic" manner rather than in the "Quadratic/Indirect" type of terrorism. Whilst terrorism, generally, employs indirect means in order to achieve its objectives (such s when it wishes for a government to release x amount of prisoners, it randomly attacks civilians), gangs such as MS-13 set about their objectives directly, directly targeting those they wish to eradicate. There have been instances where the indirect equation has been evidenced, such as by the bus scenario in Honduras, but such situations are the exception rather than the norm. Its system of warfare, moreover, just as is that of terrorism, is likewise skewed in an asymmetric manner. Vulnerable and innocent segments of the population (including women, children, elderly, and the handicapped) are targeted and randomly assailed for senseless reasons by individuals more powerful and more powerfully equipped than they. It is in this way, that street gangs, such as the MS-13, both converge and diverge from typical terrorist patterns.
Bunker, R. J. 'Epochal Change: War over Social and Political Organization', Parameters, vol. 27, no. 2, Summe, 1997
Derbeken, Jaxon Van."Widow pleads for death penalty." San Francisco Chronicle. June 27, 2008.
Del Barco, M. "The International Reach of the Mara Salvatrucha." NPR.org (May 2, 2011). http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4539688
Elkus, a. Foreign Policy in Focus "Gangs, terrorists, and trade" (April 12, 2007)
Sullivan, J.P "Maras Morphing: Revisiting Third Generation Gongs," Global Crime 7, 3 -- 4 (August -- November 2006)
Sullivan, J.P. & Elkus, a. "State of Siege: Mexico's Criminal Insurgency" Small Wars Journal.
1 Streetgang life
2 Del Barco, M. "? http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4539688 ?the International Reach of the Mara Salvatrucha"?. NPR.org (May 2, 2011). http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4539688
3 Elkus, a. Foreign Policy in Focus "Gangs, terrorists, and trade" (Aprilk 12, 2007)