"These people have no souls," she said of MS-13.
An accused mastermind of the bus attack is Lester Rivera-Paz, who is tied to an original MS-13 cell in Los Angeles, the Normandie Locos. He had been deported from the U.S. four times.
Known as El Culiche, or the Tapeworm, Rivera-Paz had a lengthy criminal record in California, including an armed robbery in the LAPD's Rampart Division in 2000. The case was dropped when prosecutors could not find the victim, court records and interviews show.
San Pedro Sula, where Rivera-Paz emerged as a leader, has one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America. A weak national economy, family violence and social disintegration caused by massive out-migration are fueling the violence, a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank found.
Maduro has framed the struggle against MS-13 and other gangs as a fight for the life of his nation. Authorities say the gang plotted last year to assassinate Maduro and kill the president of Honduras' Congress with a grenade.
Human rights groups have accused the Honduran government of unjustified arrests and of tolerating death squads that have killed hundreds of gang members. Honduran Public Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said gang members may have been targeted. But he added that people are fed up with the violence.
Tough anti-gang measures have not always worked as planned. A month after his arrest, Rivera-Paz, the suspected bus massacre mastermind, broke out of a Honduran prison. Earlier this year, he was found hiding in the trunk of a Dodge Intrepid loaded with illegal immigrants as it raced north through Texas before dawn.
He has pleaded guilty to illegally reentering the country and is likely to serve two years in a U.S. prison. Honduran officials have agreed to let him serve out his prison term in the U.S. and say he will face charges in their country after he is deported a fifth time.
Preying on Migrants
On an open Mexican plain dotted with mango and banana trees outside the city of Tapachula, 20 miles from the Guatemalan border, the knot of men waited for the northbound train, which they knew would sway and slow to a crawl on the uneven track later that night.
The men scattered as police swooped in. Officers went to the spot because MS-13 gang members often hop aboard the boxcars to terrorize migrants clinging to the train's roofs and sides.
"The gang's technique is to blend in, get to know the undocumented ones," said Cmdr. Jorge Enrique Murillo of the Chiapas state police. "Then they attack them."
The migrants are easy targets because nearly all have money and most are defenseless.
Murillo's men arrested two suspects, both tattooed and carrying 18-inch machetes. One, Omar Suarez Osorio, a 22-year-old Honduran, had a large MS inked into his chest and three triangular dots on the web of his thumb, a sign the gang member had killed someone, police said.
For years, Mexico's southernmost state has been plagued by MS-13 and other gangs. At any given time, officials say, up to 3,000 MS-13 members are operating in Chiapas.
Gang members have also leapfrogged north along the rail lines through central Mexico. The gang has established strongholds in Mexican border cities near Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, according to interviews and law enforcement intelligence reports.
Mexican officials have found evidence that MS-13 members are working as low-level gunmen for warring drug cartels. In northern Mexico, MS-13 members roam the banks of the milky brown Rio Grande in the city of Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. They force migrants to pay them tribute before crossing, according to officials and community workers on both sides of the border.
Last month, the Chiapas attorney general, Mariano Herran Salvatti, and the FBI announced a plan to share intelligence on the gang, particularly regarding its purported use of the rail lines to smuggle people north to the border. MS-13 members act as guides for some migrants, authorities say, charging as much as $1,500 to move them to the U.S. border.