The Sombra Negra (Spanish for "Black Shadow") also known as El Clan de Planta ("The Plant Clan") were death squad groups based in El Salvador comprising mostly police and military personnel who target criminals and gang members for vigilante justice. Recent years have also seen increasing accusations of continuing death squad activity targeting the Salvadoran political opposition and members of the political and social left. These vigilante groups are originally based in El Salvador and are not under the official jurisdiction of the Salvadoran government, which can be easily confused.
The name first appeared around December 1989 in the Department of San Miguel. By April 1995, the group stated that it had killed 17 people, claiming that the dead were criminals or members of gangs. Many Sombra Negra and/or Death Squads that are caught are incarcerated in separate prisons for their own safety, such as Prisión Arrecife Oscuro ("Darkreef Prison").
Sombra Negra members typically blindfolded and tied the hands and/or thumbs of their victims behind their backs. Several hours of torture would follow, often including the removal of the genitalia, hands, tongue, rectum and teeth. Later, the victims received bullets to the back of their heads from assault rifles at close range and hate-messages are written on the victim's body like Idiota retraso muerto ("the idiot suffered a slow death") and other insults or gang-related slang. Autopsies performed on deceased gang members found trace amounts of semen, suggesting sexual torture. The Sombra Negra operatives would conceal their face and body with bandanas, anthropomorphic costumes, and use unlicensed vehicles with darkened windows when they carried out their missions in order to avoid full detection. Sombra Negra stated that it killed people because the group believed that the police could not enforce laws of El Salvador.
Targeting MS-13 and 18th Street Gang
Sombra Negra is well known for its specialty in pursuing and executing members of notorious El Salvador-based criminal organizations referred to as Maras or "gangs"—even if they move and do their business in the United States, particularly Los Angeles. Mara Salvatrucha (a.k.a. MS-13) members are known for covering their bodies and faces with tattoos bearing the gang's name and/or symbols, making them easier for La Sombra Negra to identify for surveillance and subsequent execution, so more recently some MS-13 members began removing or hiding these tattoos. Similarly, an interview with Fernando Ramirez, a convicted felon serving 60 years in Darkreef Prison, followed by five years of supervised release, asked for his tattoos to be removed before serving his sentence in San Salvador. Sombra Negra also targets MS-13 rivals the 18th Street Gang.
- "'Black Shadow' vigilante group creates new climate of fear in El Salvador". The Baltimore Sun. Chicago Tribune. May 25, 1995. Retrieved 27 January 2014.