In El Salvador, a tiny country plagued by gang violence, attackers shot and killed six members of an evangelical church in a rural western province on Jan. 11. Officials suspect the attackers were gang members.
The Christians were leaving a church in the El Nispero district of the city of Tacuba when the attackers unleashed a volley of gunfire, according to Fox News Latino. The federal prosecutor’s office in Ahuachapan state near the border of Guatemala said the victims were riddled with bullets.
Witnesses said five attackers ordered the Christians—most of them farmers—to lift their shirts and then shot them, NoticiaCristiana.com reported. The massacre was the second attack on Christians in El Salvador in a week, after gunmen ambushed a bus full of missionaries on Jan. 4.
Heavily armed gangs control much of El Salvador, which is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America, according to the CIA Factbook. Gangs are blamed for the country’s high murder rate, which Fox News Latino reported is 6.82 killings per day.
On the day of the attack, three members of the 18th Street Gang were also killed in a separate incident in central El Salvador. The 18th Street and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) are the country’s the two biggest gangs.
In recent years, the Catholic Church attempted to bring peace to the rival groups. Catholic Bishop Fabio Colindres helped broker a truce between them in March 2012. A report by the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies and InSight Crime found that shortly after the agreement “the murder rate in one of the most violent countries on the planet” was cut in half. Slightly more than a year later, Reuters reported the truce was “crumbling,” with violence and murder on the rise again.
The gang activity puts Christian evangelists in a dangerous position, according to NoticiaCristiana. They quoted a man identified only as Antonio who said, “In recent months the situation has been complicated and gang members have guaranteed that if we do not have a badge with our name, photo, and logos of our church, they will not allow us to enter the area or they can kill us.” The gangs fear evangelists may actually be police posing as Christians.