Gangs have always been a source of public fascination. As much as we fear them, we follow the stories and careers of the world’s most violent gangs & gangsters with a morbid curiosity.
Modern gangs have evolved into sophisticated, powerful organizations. The top criminal organizations of the 21st century hold tremendous influence – controlling politicians, legitimate businesses, and billions of dollars. Some gangs are business focused groups who look to minimize killing, while others are brutal, hyper-violent organizations that murder and torture on a whim.
Here is a fascinating look at 10 of the most dangerous gangs in the world:
1. Los Zetas
Over the last half a decade, Mexico has been ravaged by powerful, highly violent drug cartels. Since President Felipe Calderon’s crackdown on the cartels in late 2006, over 50,000 people have been reported murdered in Mexico.
The war between the hyper-violent Los Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel is largely to blame for a good chunk of the violence, as these 2 powerful cartels fight for control of the multi-billion dollar drug trade, murdering anyone who gets in their way.
If the Sinaloa are the more established, traditional powerhouse of the Mexican underworld, the Los Zetas are the new, exceedingly vicious breed. The Los Zetas are known for administering violent, extremely gruesome endings to anyone who gets in their way – rival gang members, politicians, police officers, journalists, and innocents.
The Los Zetas are extremely well trained and armed to the teeth. According to the U.S. government, they are the “most technologically advanced, sophisticated, and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico.” The organization was founded in 1999, when a group of Mexico’s elite special forces decided to get in on the lucrative drug trade by becoming enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, another powerful cartel.
They soon broke away to form their own organization, which has overtaken the Gulf Cartel and even the Sinaloa cartel as the most powerful, ruthless, and profitable drug gang in Mexico, and probably the world.
When one of their top leaders – Heriberto Lazcano aka El Lazca – was killed by Mexican Marines in October 2012, the gang snatched back his body from the authorities in a show of considerable power, embarrassing Mexican officials, who were left struggling to explain how such major blow to the organization could be so quickly turned into a display of power, strength and influence.
2. Sinaloa Cartel
The powerful Sinaloa Cartel is headed by the charismatic “El Chapo” Guzman, widely considered to be the most powerful drug trafficker in the world.
He has even been named one of the world’s most powerful people every year since 2009 by Forbes magazine, ranking 41st in 2009, 60th in 2010, and 55th in 2011. The DEA has called him the “godfather of the drug world.”
The Sinaloa Cartel has been widely rumored to be working with the Mexican federal police and military to control the Juarez Valley and crush other cartels in the area. Some authorities consider the Sinaloa Cartel to be the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world, although other authorities believe the Los Zetas have since taken that title. Even if they’re not #1, the Sinaloa Cartel is still a top player when it comes to doing what it does best – trafficking drugs and dishing out murder.
3. Solntsevskaya Bratva
The Solntsevskaya Bratva – a.k.a. the Solntsevskaya Gang or the Solntsevskaya Brotherhood – is a powerful organized crime association based out of Moscow. In fact, they’re considered the largest faction of the infamous Russian Mafia.
A violent as the Solntsevskaya Bratva can be, their founder and leader – Sergei “Mikhas” Mikhailov, considers himself a “businessman”. It’s estimated that the group controls hundreds of legitimate business groups in Russia and around the globe. That is of course, in addition to the usual mafia money makers including prostitution, credit card fraud, human trafficking, extortion, arms dealing, illegal gambling, stock fraud, and money laundering.
The Solntsevskaya Bratva’s influence expands well beyond Russian borders. In a 2003 report, the Solntsevskaya Bratva were found to have a significant presence in New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Miami, Grand Rapids, and Chicago.
The Yamaguchi Gumi have a long history as a criminal organization, dating back all the way to 1915. It’s now the largest, most powerful Yakuza group in Japan. The organization is estimated to have over 55,000 members, and has influence in virtually every level of Japanese society. The Yamaguchi Gumi is so feared in Japan, that cops often won’t arrest then and the press rarely writes about them.
Their members are covered in tattoos, and can often be seen missing parts of their pinkies and ring fingers – when a Yamaguchi Gumi member messes up, he offers penance by cutting off parts of his own fingers.
Their extreme level of influence makes them arguably the world’s wealthiest criminal organization. They have their hands in virtually every criminal money making activity and control many industries, from extortion rackets, to gambling, to the sex trade, gun running, drugs, construction kickback schemes, stock market manipulation, political corruption, and porn.
D-company operates in India and the Persian Gulf region under the leadership of the notorious Dawood Ibrahim. Unlike most organized crime syndicates, D-company is exceptional in that it also undertakes terrorist activities, usually carrying out terrorist attacks for monetary compensation. In fact, Ibrahim has been labelled a global terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department due to his links with the late Osama bin Laden.
Under Ibrahim’s leadership, D-Company has been linked to several terrorist attacks, including the infamous November 2008 Mumbai attacks – India’s equivalent to 9/11. D-Company is said to generate billions of dollars from its illegal activities all over the globe. While Dawood Ibrahim has become somewhat of a celebrity in India, rumor has it that he has had plastic surgery to modify his appearance.
The Camorra is a powerful faction of the Italian mafia. Its more of a loose confederation of independent groups, rather than a centralized organization, but that only makes the organization all the more dangerous and robust. There are said to be an estimated 111 loosely affiliated Camorra clans, consisting of over 6,700 gang members.
According to investigative journalist Roberto Saviano, a leading expert on the Italian mafia and the Camorra in particular, the camorra are the most powerful faction of the Italian mafia in terms of economic power, influence, numbers, and ruthless violence. While they’re heavily involved in criminal enterprise, they also have significant interests in legitimate businesses. They’re said to control the fish, milk, and coffee trade in Italy. They even own over 2,500 bakeries.
One of the Camorra’s preferred method of gaining power and influence is through political patronage. The mafia groups bribe and support local politicians and public officials and leverage this influence to gain advantages in their money making ventures – both criminal and legitimate.
MS-13, or Maras, is a violent hispanic gang that originated in the streets of Los Angeles, but now has influence in Central America, the US, Canada, and Mexico. Newsweek magazine once called MS-13 the most dangerous gang in North America.
MS-13 members often cover their bodies and even faces in tattoos. They’re known for their eagerness to use violence and their belief in cruel, merciless revenge. Their thirst for violence and vengeance is the reason the Sinaloa Cartel recruited them as part of its battle against the Los Zetas.
One of the most infamous examples of MS-13′s eagerness to use violence was a 2004 incident in Chamelecon, Honduras, where members sprayed a bus with gunfire and killed 28 innocent civilians – mostly women and children. The reason? As a protest against the Honduran government, which was considering bringing back the death penalty.
The gang is estimated to have 30,000 to 50,000 members worldwide, with 8,000 to 10,000 of them operating within the United States.
8. Tai Huen Chai a.k.a. The Big Circle Gang
While Chinese organized crime groups known as triads have always been a problem in China, their influence has grown alongside China’s meteoric economic growth. Perhaps the most powerful of these triads is the Dai Huen Jai, also known as The Big Circle Gang.
The gang was founded by corrupt members of Mao Ze Dong’s infamous Red Guards. After China’s cultural revolution, these founders fled to Hong Kong, where they made their fortune in human trafficking, prostitution, extortion, and the heroin trade.
9. United Bamboo
United Bamboo is believed to be the most powerful triad in Taiwan, with an estimated 10,000 members.
United Bamboo operates with an “old school” organized crime code of ethics that stresses unity, though its members frequently engage in violence.
They’re believed to control the drug trafficking in Taiwan and have significant political influence, as well as operations that stretch through Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Like many other triad crime syndicates, United Bamboo doesn’t have a single boss, but rather uses a horizontal hierarchical structure that insulates the organization should a member get killed or arrested.
10. Hell’s Angels
The Hell’s Angels are probably the most famous organized crime syndicate in North America. This motorcycle club is incorporated in the United States and in Canada as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation. While they’re primarily based in North America, they have 230 chapters worldwide in 27 countries.
The Hell’s Angels are probably most well known for riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles and wearing jackets and patches with their infamous “winged death heads” logo. In fact, their logo is so famous that the Hells Angels actually filed a lawsuit against designer Alexander McQueen for misusing their trademarked logo in a ring and box dress from his 2010 Autumn/Winter collection. The Hell’s Angels lawyer ominously stated that “If you’ve got one of these rings on, a member might get really upset that you’re an imposter.”
The Hell’s Angels insist that they’re simply a group of motorcycle enthusiasts, but according to various intelligence agencies, the Hells Angels are classified internationally as one of the world’s “big 4″ motorcycle gangs. Their members allegedly engage in organized crime activities ranging from drug dealing and trafficking, extortion, robbery, and prostitution.