No.10 - Area Boys Territory: Lagos, Nigeria
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking, extortion, murder, inciting riots
Number of members: 35,000
Over the past three decades, Nigeria’s Area Boys have gone from young kids committing crimes of opportunity to a massive if still largely unorganized street gang responsible for acts of extortion and murder. Local authorities, who have made a number of failed humanitarian attempts to eliminate the gang, tie the rising level of violence to a depressed economy, high unemployment and the increasing prevalence of drug addiction among the gang’s members.
No.9 - Jamaican Posse Territory: Jamaica, Eastern United States, UK (known as “Yardies”)
Criminal activities: Drug and gun trafficking, witness intimidation, murder
Number of members: 13,000 to 20,000
Known for their use of extreme violence and preference for high-powered weapons of war, like the MAC-10, the Jamaican Posse has strong affiliations with the two major political parties in Jamaica, the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), as well as the island’s police force and the military.
Authorities have identified dozens of individual posses within the wider gang. The two most often cited are the Spangler Posse, aligned with the PNP, and the Shower Posse, aligned with the JLP. The Shower Posse reportedly takes its name from the “shower of bullets” it dispenses on its enemies.
No.8 - Wah Ching Territory: Hong Kong, San Francisco, Los Angeles
Criminal activities: Drug and gun trafficking, extortion, murder, software piracy, burglary, gambling, prostitution, loan sharking
Number of members: 7,000-plus
By some accounts, the origins of Wah Ching go back 300 years, while others date them to the mid-1960s. Whatever the case, their criminal activities are highly diversified, making them extraordinarily good at one thing in particular: making money. The Wah Ching are also violent and sophisticated, as evidenced by two 1995 raids in Los Angeles that uncovered an underground factory run by the Wah Ching featuring $18 million in counterfeit Microsoft products. The raid also found weapons and explosives, namely TNT and C-4.
No.7 - Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) Territory: Brazilian prison system
Criminal activities: Drug and gun trafficking, murder, extortion, prison riots, prison breaks, kidnapping
Number of members: 6,000-plus
Formed in 1993, at Sao Paulo’s Taubate prison, PCC is unlike many gangs in that they have a political agenda, namely to fight the oppressive conditions of the overcrowded prisons. Members are required to take an oath and pay monthly fees that vary depending on whether one is in prison or not. Although most members are incarcerated, they are well-organized, operating with a network of loyalists in and out of prison. In 2006, they flexed their considerable muscle by orchestrating synchronized, simultaneous rebellions in 79 state prisons while inciting violence and anarchy in the city of Sao Paulo.
No.6 - Aryan Brotherhood (AB) Territory: U.S. federal and state prison systems
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking, conspiracy, murder, racketeering, contract killing
Number of members: 15,000-plus
Dating back to 1964, the Aryan Brotherhood has a huge presence in the U.S. federal prison system, particularly in California. They are well-organized, well-connected in and out of prison, and they lack the one card authorities could play against them: fear of punishment. What more can you do to a guy on a life sentence with no parole? Not even the death penalty carries any weight. Consequently, the AB have become extraordinary killers. According to the FBI, members make up about one-tenth of 1% of the entire U.S. prison population, but they’re responsible for 18% of all prison murders.
No.5 - Bloods Territory: Los Angeles
Criminal activities: Murder, drug trafficking, robbery, extortion, robbery
Number of members: 15,000 to 30,000
In L.A., experts estimate that there are about 75 Bloods gangs (compare that to over 200 Crips gangs). They have traditionally been understood chiefly through their rivalry with the Crips. During the 1980s, for example, one of the bloodiest rivalries in the history of Los Angeles gangs took place between the Bounty Hunters, one of the area’s largest Bloods gangs, and the Grape Street Crips.
Bloods gangs were originally just “anti-Crips” gangs, formed in neighborhoods alarmed by the rapid spread of Crips gangs. By the mid-1970s, they unified under the name “Bloods” (a move that contributes to their reputation as being better organized than the Crips), and the wider rivalry between the two gangs began to take shape.
No.4 - 18th Street Gang Territory: Los Angeles, Western and Southern U.S., Central America
Criminal activities: Drug and gun trafficking, robbery, extortion, murder, contract killing, prostitution
Number of members: 65,000
With 50,000 members in Central America, tens of thousands in the U.S., and believed by some to be operating in 37 states and 10 foreign countries, the 18th Street Gang is organized, disciplined and sophisticated, and depending on which expert you believe, it is even better organized than its primary rival, MS-13.
Arguably, the 18th Street Gang is the largest gang in Los Angeles County, even though the estimated 15,000 L.A.-area members are spread out into some two dozen individual gangs held together by label only. Furthermore, some experts dispute the perception that gangs like 18th Street Gang have any true connection with the Central American gangs under the same name, like Mara 18.
No.3 - The Mungiki Territory: Nairobi, Kenya
Criminal activities: Murder, racketeering, extortion, mutilation, intimidation
Number of members: 100,000 to 500,000
In the Gikuyu language spoken in Kenya, the word "mungiki" means “multitude,” a fitting name for this massive ethnic gang that has developed a reputation for severe brutality -- which they often dole out by way of machete -- and whose calling card in the recent past was nothing short of a severed human head on a stick. They operate in Nairobi’s larger slums, such as Mathare, targeting other ethnic groups and exerting tremendous political clout. Despite their enormous size, little is known or fully understood about the Mungiki -- a trait that contributes to the terror they inspire.
No.2 - Crips
Territory: Los Angeles
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking, robbery, murder, extortion, ID theft
Number of members: 50,000
The Crips are among the oldest and most notorious street gangs. Their origins go back to a teenager named Raymond Washington who, the legend says, advocated fists, not guns. From its earliest days, one characteristic of the Crips has remained consistent: an inability to develop a single, centralized power structure.
Like many other street gangs, the Crips are actually a loose confederation of hundreds of localized “sets” across the U.S. In fact, despite their well-known rivalry with the Bloods, a Crip is three times more likely to kill another Crip than he is to kill a Blood. The long, violent rivalry between two Crips gangs, the Eight Tray Gangsters and the Rollin’ 60 Crips, illustrates the point.
No.1 - Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)
Territory: Central America, the United States
Criminal activities: Drugs, guns and human trafficking, murder, contract killing, extortion, kidnapping
Number of members: 70,000
Right now, the street gang getting the most attention around the world is MS-13. The gang is a product of the Cold War, born of refugees from the 1980s Salvadoran Civil War who landed in Los Angeles. For a street gang, MS-13 operates with extreme organizational efficiency. In fact, they carry out investigations as well as hold local and regional meetings. The recent FBI crackdown on the group (which included the FBI’s declaration that MS-13 is America’s “most violent gang”) will likely not scare them -- this is a gang who kidnapped and killed the son of a Honduran president. They have inspired legislation in Honduras and El Salvador that so harshly targets gang members that even human rights organizations are crying foul