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World Biggest Criminal Gangs

Gangs and criminal organizations come into creation for a number of reasons or motives.
Usually they revolve around money, and use fear, crime and extortion. They can be loosely
controlled with no apparent structure, or they can be highly efficient with military like
organization. In contrast to general media conception, gangs have been around for centuries
in one shape or another, the Chinese Triads for example were started as a resistance to the
Manchu Emperor of the Qing Dynasty in the 1760s. Here are just 5 of the biggest gangs and
criminal groups in existence today.

The Crips
The Crips are a primarily, but not exclusively, African American gang founded in Los Angeles,
California in 1969 by 15 year old Raymond Washington. What was once a single gang is now
a loosely connected network of individual sets, often engaged in open warfare with one
another. The gang is known to be involved in murders, robberies, drug dealing, among many
other criminal pursuits. They have been popularized in many movies, thousands of songs,
and even video games like GTA 3.
Gang Size

Through the years the gang has grown to be one of the largest and most powerful gangs in
the United States with a membership that exceeds well over 30,000 gang members. Since
affiliation is lose and unofficial, the number may be much higher.
Gang Symbols

The gang is notorious for flamboyant use of the color blue in their clothing. However, this
practice has waned due to contentious police crackdowns on gang members. It’s thought to
be from the school colors of Washington High School in South L.A. Another theory is the co-
founder, Stanley Williams, had a good and close friend called “Buddha”, who wore blue shirts,
khakis, shoes, and a blue bandanna from his back left pocket. When Buddha died, Williams
made blue the Crip color in honor of Buddha.
Due to the infamous rivalry with the Bloods, some Crips will change words containing the
letter B or choose another word to replace it, the best being a word with a C. If no word can
reasonably be substituted, the letter B may be crossed out. Sometimes excessive use of the
letter C also occurs, such as “be right baCC” to refrain from using the initials “ck” which
stands for “Crip Killer”. Also, the letter B can be written Bk as in “Blood Killer”.
The Crips are known to have an intense and bitter rivalry with the Bloods as well as with
some Chicano gangs.
Many famous entertainers have Crip affiliation including:
 Afroman
 Coolio
 Ice T
 Snoop Dogg
 Xzibit
Hells Angels
One of the most international groups, Hells Angels are
more of a club than a criminal organization, and
shouldn’t be considered a gang. In fact in the USA and
Canada they even have their own copyrights as the
Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation. Generally
considered to have started up in San Francisco around
1950, virtually all Angels ride a Harley and their
website states that members travel on average 20,000
miles per year, come rain or shine. Although the media
has always viewed the Angels as a criminal
organization, and indeed in the past much crime and
even murders were performed by Angels, or on their
behalf, they are no longer seen as a major threat to
society and organized charity events have been held by
the Angels.

The Hells Angels insignia is called the Deathshead (pictured above). They also utilize the
number 81, 8 for the eighth letter of the alphabet: H, and 1 for the first: A. HA being Hells
Angels. They also use the colors red and white.

Due to the secretive nature of the Hells Angels, there is no way to accurately tell how many
members they have.

The MS13 Gang

MS13 or Mara Salvatrucha are a huge international
gang comprised mostly of Salvadorans, Hondurans
and Central Americans, but have also aquired
followings throughout most parts of the Western
World. Activities typically include drug smuggling
and sales, black market gun sales, human
trafficking, assassinations for hire, theft, and
assaults on law enforcement officials and as such
are one of the most hated gangs by police forces
and FBI, who declared them the greatest internal
threat to national security. In 2005 the FBI began
wide-scale raids on suspected gang members and
arrested 600 members.
Most Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the
Los Angeles were deported either because of their
illegal status in the United States, or for
committing crimes as non-citizens, or both. This
resulted in a huge recruitment drive in the
deportees home countries. Some contend
deportation policies have contributed to the size
and influence of the gang both in the United States
and in Central America.
Gang Size

Former gang member Brenda Paz said that MS is well structured, with multiple leaders, and
that the gang’s goal was to become the top gang in the United States. Currently the gang is
estimated to be at least 100,000 members strong and growing fast.
Gang Symbols

Sign: The “devil’s head” hand signal, which forms an “M” when displayed upside down, is
similar to the same symbol common in hard rock. The founders copied this symbol they saw
on their visits to rock concerts.
Most Mara Salvatrucha members often cover themselves in tattoos. Common markings
include “MS”, “13″, “Salvadorian Pride” the “Devil Horns” and the name of their clique.

“Mara” refers to the Spanish word for army ant.

The Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army) or PIRA, are commonly referred to as the IRA
and have existed in one form or another since around 1916. They are a left wing republican
paramilitary organization who sought home rule and independence from the United Kingdom
for a United Ireland. Since 1969 it’s main goal has been the overthrow of Northern Ireland
and the Republic of Ireland with their replacement by a sovereign all-Irish state. They are
heavily political yet the United Kingdom continues to class them as an illegal terrorist group.
The IRA are recognized as professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient by official
British Military documents.
The IRA refers to its ordinary members as volunteers. Up until the late 1970s, IRA volunteers
were organized in units based on conventional military structures. Volunteers living in one
area formed a company, which in turn was part of a battalion, which could be part of a
brigade, although many battalions were not attached to a brigade.
In the early years their strategy was to use as much force as possible to cause the collapse of
the Northern Ireland administration and to inflict enough casualties on the British forces that
the British government would be forced by public opinion to withdraw from Ireland and as
such decades upon decades of violence, murder and rioting have been commonplace.
Official documents state that the IRA have been responsible for around 1,800 deaths. Of
these, roughly 1,100 were members of the security forces - British Army, Royal Ulster
Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment, between 600 and 650 were civilians and the
remainder were either loyalist or republican paramilitaries (including over 100 IRA members
accidentally killed by their own bombs). It has also been estimated that the IRA injured 6,000
British Army, UDR and RUC and up to 14,000 civilians.

In the early to mid 1970s, the numbers recruited by the Provisional IRA, may have reached
several thousand, but these were reduced when the IRA re-organized its structures from
1977 onwards. An RUC report of 1986 estimated that the IRA had 300 or so members in
Active Service Units and up to 750 active members in total in Northern Ireland.
According to The Provisional IRA (Eamon Mallie and Patrick Bishop), roughly 8,000 people
passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them
leaving after arrest, “retirement” or disillusionment. The total figure for the number to have
passed through the organization must therefore be higher again, once those recruited since
1988 are taken into account.

Bloody Sunday (1972) was an incident where 26 unarmed civil rights protesters were shot by
the British Army in Derry, the first of which was a man running down a street away from
advancing troops, who was shot in the back. Twelve further people were killed, mostly trying
to aid the already injured. Fourteen others were wounded, twelve shot by the British soliders
and 2 knocked down by armoured personnel carriers. gives an account of each
victim and how they died, showing that 6 minors were killed, all unarmed, while trying to
attain safety. Incidents like this helped to bolster the IRAs status amongst the Irish
Despite some successes by the British and Irish security services, military and police at
infiltrating the IRA, as of the year 2001, the British, Irish and American governments believed
that the IRA remained an extremely potent and capable terrorist organization.

Russian Mafia

The Russian Mafia had been around since the 1970’s but became highly established in and
after 1991 when the Cold War ended. Many of their members are ex Soviet Army and ex KGB
officers who lost their posts due to the large reduction after the end of the Cold War. They
have political ties too, due to many officials being desperate for money, eventually turning
corrupt or entirely to crime. They also recruit boxers, wrestlers, weightlifters, athletes and
martial arts experts. Infighting is common and murders across the Russian mafia take place
often. They are highly secretive and maintain this using one significantly morose tactic where
they will not only murder an informer or snitch, but his entire family too.
Throughout the 1990’s they attempted and somewhat succeeded hostile takeovers of national
banks. Banking executives, reform-minded business leaders, even investigative journalists,
were systematically assassinated or kidnapped. In 1993 alone, members of the eight criminal
gangs that control the Moscow underworld murdered 10 local bankers. Calling themselves
“Thieves in Law”, Russian gangsters murdered ninety-five bankers between 1993 and 1998.
Foreign companies pay up to 20% of their profits to the Mafia as the on-going price of doing
business in Russia. Ignoring shakedown threats merely invites tragedy. Most American and
other western firms find it necessary to hire private security guards to protect their
executives from extortion threats and roving assassins.

Intelligence reports emanating out of Russia peg the numerical size of the Russian Mafia at


The term “Yakuza” literally derives from beginnings of the traditional words “Yattsu (Eight)”,
“Ku (Nine)” and “Za (Three)” based on the worst hand attainable in the Japanese card game

Prospective yakuza come from all walks of life. In the past they would accept sons who have
been abandoned or exiled by their parents. Many yakuza start out in junior high school or
high school as common street thugs or members of bosozoku gangs. Some yakuza “goons”
are actually mentally handicapped, but recruited due to their large physiques while the
leadership levels of yakuza gangs usually consist of very sharp, cunning, intelligent men, as
the process to rise to the top-levels in the yakuza can be very competitive and Machiavellian.
Members of yakuza gangs cut their family ties and transfer their loyalty to the gang boss.
They refer to each other as family members - fathers and elder and younger brothers. The
Yakuza is populated entirely by men, and there are usually no women involved. However,
unlike many crime groups, women are sometimes involved in its activities. When the
Yamaguchi-gumi Family boss was shot in the late nineties, his wife took over as boss of
Yamaguchi-gumi for a short time.
Popularized in the west in several movies, Yubitsume is the cutting off of a finger as an act of
apology or humility. For a first offense the offender cuts off the tip of his left pinky, giving it
to his boss. Sometimes an underboss does this to his boss in order to spare a member of his
own gang from retribution. This is so prominent in Japan that when UK kids shows Bob The
Building and Postman Pat were imported, the Japanese considered adding an extra finger to
the characters’ four fingered hands to avoid scaring children.
Sign in a Public Bath banning Yakuza
Irezumi are full body tattoos, which many Yakuza members have and are often hand-poked,
where the ink is injected using a steel or bamboo needle instead of a machine. This can be
very painful and take as long as 10 years to complete.
Nationwide, there were some 84,700 known members of Yakuza. Since they are not a
secretive gang, their numbers are relatively easy to track down.
Historical reports show the Yakuza to have been around since the 17th century as a low
ranking derivative of the hatamoto, similar to the shogun warriors.

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