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article imageGuatemala police nab 170 in swoop on extortion rings

By AFP     Sep 11, 2017 in World

Guatemalan police and prosecutors on Monday arrested at least 170 people suspected of belonging to gang-linked groups that extorted money from shopkeepers and bus companies under threats of violence and murder, officials said.

The swoops took place across the country, including in the capital, under the codename "Operation Shield," Interior Minister Francisco Rivas told reporters.

Networks tied to the country's two main gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, have extorted nearly $800,000 in the past two years, according to the state prosecutor's office.

Investigators said those arrested Monday had used threats to extort money from 36 public transport companies, 43 businesses and 21 individuals. Some were also believed to be involved in 30 murders.

Four firearms, two knives, ammunition, cash, 54 cellphones, five walkie-talkies, two computers and an electronic tablet were seized in the raids, police said.

Authorities said the operation was the biggest yet against extortion rings. It followed others against the gangs carried out in June this year and in May 2016 that resulted in a total of 425 arrests.

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