La Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS or MS-13, is a street gang started in the 1980s by El Salvadoran transplants living in Los Angeles. In the years since it has spread internationally; from Mexico, to Canada, to El Salvador, to all parts of the United States including Texas, Maryland, and even Washington D.C. MS-13 is one of the biggest and most violent drug gangs in the world. Members of MS-13 are easily recognizable because they are heavily into tattoos, most commonly the letters ‘MS’ or the number ’13’ is incorporated into the tattoos, and they really like face tattoos; some MS-13 members will even get a huge ’13’ tattoo that covers their entire face to show their commitment.
#9 Primeiro Comando da Capital (brazil)
The Primeiro Comando da Capital of São Paulo is generally considered to be the largest street gang in Brazil. If their 13,000 or so members over 5,000 are currently incarcerated, and the gang has as much influence inside of prison as it does on the outside. Formed by prisoners in the 1990s, the Primeiro are known for dealing drugs, committing murder, trafficking arms, and plenty of kidnapping. In 2012 after a dispute with some local police, the Primeiro Comando da Capital erupted and incited a huge riot during which they killed hundreds of people, including police officers.
#8 18th Street Gang, Los Angeles
18th Street is one one of the oldest Hispanic gangs in Los Angeles and is generally considered to be the largest street gang in LA with around 15,000 members and there are as many as 20 different sub-gangs that fall under the umbrella of 18th Street. 18th Street was formed in the 1960s, appropriately near the intersection of 18th Street and Union Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Their criminal activities range from drug-dealing to car theft, burglary, and home invasions. In the past ten years alone 18th Street has been found responsible for over 250 deaths.
#7 Area Boys (Lagos, Nigeria)
The Area Boys are a gang of mostly street children and teenagers in Lagos, Nigeria. Don’t let their youthful membership fool you; although the Area Boys members are young, they are one of the most vicious gangs in the world. They are known for dealing drugs, committing extortion, and robbing people in broad daylight. They will threaten, beat, and rob people in very high-profile places like public markets and buss stops. They also hire their services out, as a sort of ‘thugs-for-hire’ business. In 2005 a Nigerian military soldier tried to stop a group of Area Boys from robbing a bus driver, they subsequently stabbed the soldier to death.
#6 La Eme (Mexican Mafia)
La Eme are one of the most notorious prison gangs on earth. If you’ve seen the movies ‘American Me’ or ‘Blood In/Blood Out (Bound By Honor)’ then you have already seen the Hollywood version of how this gang started. Imprisoned gangsters Rodolfo Cadina and Joe ‘Pegleg’ Morgan were founding members of La Eme while serving time at the Deuel Vocational Prison in the late 50s. Since then La Eme has become the gang that most Southern California gangbangers become affiliated with when they enter the prison system. Their strict honor code includes rules against infighting, cowardice, and disrespect and they have been connected with contract killings both inside and outside the prison walls.
#5 Wah Ching
Wah Ching is an asian street gang that was started by Chinese American youths in San Francisco in the 1960s. ‘Wah Ching’ means ‘Chinese Youth’ but today the Wah Ching has members of other asian nationalities, including vietnamese. In the 70’s the Wah Ching had a legendary shootout with the Joe Boys in what became known as the ‘Golden Dragon Massacre’, where 5 people were murdered and 11 more hospitalized. Since then the Wah Ching have kept their operation more or less quiet, but rumor has it that the Wah Ching is as active as ever and people who cross them don’t get away lightly.
The Yakuza is an international crime syndicate founded and focused in Japan. They are the largest and most strictly organized criminal organization in the world; there are an estimated 100,000 members in this gang! The Yakuza’s main criminal activities include political racketeering, prostitution, financial crimes, and gambling. The history of the Yakuza goes all the way back to the 17th Century when Ronin warriors ran around with swords. “Yakuza” is a term from a Japanese card game (Oicho-Kabu) which means ‘worthless’ or ‘pointless’ which reflects the way the Yakuza view themselves: as outsiders.
#3 Los Zetas
Ever hear about the infamous Mexican drug cartels? You know, like those in Breaking Bad and End of Watch? Well Los Zetas are the biggest and baddest of all the Mexican cartels. They are also one of the most militant and technologically advanced; In fact, Los Zetas was started in the late 1999’s when an entire Mexican special forces unit actually defected to join a drug cartel. That’s right, this cartel is run by former military men! Los Zetas have been found responsible for several mass-murders, including the San Fernando Massacre in 2011 which left 190 dead, and the Monterrey Casino Attack which left over 50 dead. Los Zetas are known for beheading the bodies of their victims before disposing of them.
The triads are a large network of Asian gangs that date all the way back to 17th Century China, but today Triads can be found in China as well as Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, New Zealand, and even the United Kingdom and U.S. One of largest and most discreet crime organizations in the world, the Triads participate in pedestrian criminal activity like drug trafficking,, murder for hire, and prostitution, but they are also known for much more sophisticated criminal activity including counterfeiting and even a health care fraud ring that was busted up in Japan in 2012.
#1 La Cosa Nostra
The Mafia, The Mob, The Family, La Cosa Nostra, it goes by many names, but none are official, as members will swear up and down that this organization doesn’t exist. The Italian mob which is mostly active in the United States and Sicily is probably the most infamous organized crime syndicate in the world. Lionized in such classic films as ‘The Godfather’ trilogy, Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, and countless more, the mob rose to great heights in America thanks to prohibition. Prohibition laid the groundwork for smuggling and bootlegging which can largely be held responsible for laying the groundwork for organized crime drug smuggling that still exists today. Although many people think of The Mafia as a relic of the past, they are actually still very active today in activities including extortion, murder-for-hire, political corruption, racketeering and arms trafficking.