Sombra Negra

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The Sombra Negra (Spanish for "Black Shadow"), also known as El Clan de Planta ("The Plant Clan"), are (as of 2014)[1] death squad groups based in El Salvador, allegedly composed mostly of police and military personnel, that target criminals and gang members for vigilante justice.[2] The name first appeared around December 1989 in the Department of San Miguel. By April 1995, the group had stated that it had killed seventeen persons, claiming that those killed were criminals or members of gangs.[3] These vigilante groups are based in El Salvador. The government of El Salvador insists the groups are not under its control. Many Sombra Negra and/or death squads that are caught are incarcerated in separate prisons for their own safety.[citation needed]

Sombra Negra members typically blindfolded and tied the hands and/or thumbs of their victims behind their backs[4].[citation needed] Several hours of torture would follow, often including the removal of the genitalia, hands, tongue, rectum and teeth.[citation needed] Finally, the victims were given tiros de gracia, or shots of grace, meaning they were shot in the base of their skulls with assault rifles and machine guns at close range. Messages were written on the victim's body such as "El idiota sufrió una muerte lenta" ("this idiot suffered a slow death") and other insults or gang-related slang. Autopsies performed on murdered gang members found trace amounts of semen, suggesting sexual torture.[citation needed] 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.[3]

Targeting MS-13 and 18th Street Gang[edit]

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.[3] 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.[citation needed] Similarly, Fernando Ramirez, a convicted felon serving 60 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release, asked in an interview for his tattoos to be removed before serving his sentence in San Salvador.[5] Sombra Negra also targets MS-13 rivals the 18th Street Gang.[citation needed]

As of 2014, an increase in gang violence has sparked a revival of activity for these death squads.[6] The Salvadoran attorney general for human rights, David Morales, says this activity may be related to police activity. In an interview with Morales, the attorney general explained that the sombra negra has caused a rash of sexual assaults among gang members: "Gang members believe they [Sombra Negra] are infiltrating their ranks. Leadership and members [have] responded by raping suspected infiltrators."[7]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 2015 AMC American post-apocalyptic horror drama television series, Fear the Walking Dead the character of Daniel Salazar played by Panamenian actor, Rubén Blades is a former member of Sombra Negra who had been coerced into joining one of the Salvadoran Junta death squads and was personally responsible for killing over one-hundred Salvadorans.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Death Squad Revival", citing La Prensa Grafica (local, non-English primary source)
  2. ^ "'Black Shadow' vigilante group creates new climate of fear in El Salvador". The Baltimore Sun. Chicago Tribune. May 25, 1995. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "Question and Answer Series – El Salvador: Re-emergence Of "Social Cleansing" Death Squads – USCIS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-27..
  4. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 2009-06-27. Retrieved 2019-10-08.
  5. ^ "MS-13 Leader Sentenced to 60 Years in Federal Prison for Racketeering Conspiracy, Armed Robbery and Gun Violation". 4 May 2009.
  6. ^ "Has Gang Violence in El Salvador Sparked a Death Squad Revival?". 23 May 2014.
  7. ^ "Sombra Negra".
  8. ^ Dwilson, Stephanie Dube. "Fear the Walking Dead: What Is Sombra Negra?,, Jun 18, 2017".