In a massive operation involving almost 500 FBI agents and local police in 14 cities, simultaneous raids at 7 a.m. Saturday resulted in the arrests of 32 members or known associates of the East Palo Alto-based Taliban street gang.
"Today marks a significant milestone in our fight against drugs and violence in East Palo Alto," Police Chief Ron Davis told reporters at a 10 a.m. press conference. "We think we have effectively dismantled the Taliban."
Davis described the Taliban as "a gang of thugs" responsible for at least 237 crimes in the city in the last three years, including "murder, assaults, robbery, extortion and other felonies."
"Today we drew a line in the sand," Davis added, saying that the city will not tolerate violence from narcotics-dealing gangs any longer.
The joint investigation of the Taliban by East Palo Alto and Menlo Park police, along with the FBI, has occurred over the last 18 months.
Menlo Park Police Chief Bruce Goitia called Saturday's raid "the most significant operation in the last 20 years" and said the investment by law enforcement has paid dividends in securing the safety and quality of life of the community.
The gang has spread over city borders to Menlo Park and other jurisdictions, as evidenced by arrests also made Saturday in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Gilroy.
The Taliban is a street gang of young African Americans, East Palo Alto Detective Ed Soares said. The gang started as the "enforcement arm" of another gang, the Midtown Hogs, several years ago when that gang and the Sacramento Street gang, composed of Latinos, were rivals in the sale of narcotics.
Soares said the Taliban may have gotten its name from a hip-hop record label -- not the international religious/political organization -- but its members liked the name because it scares people.
A Sacramento Street gang member, Alberto Alvarez, is now on trial for the January 2006 murder of East Palo Alto Police Officer Richard May. After that shooting, East Palo Alto police also, in the words of Davis, "dismantled the Sacramento Street gang" through investigations and arrests.
The Sacramento Street gang was "notorious" for its violence, Davis said. And the Taliban has been "inordinately responsible for violence in our community" since the demise of the Sacramento Street gang.
Both gangs "terrorized the community," he said.
Other gangs are also selling drugs in East Palo Alto, Davis said.
"Tomorrow is a new day and we will target a new gang," he said. "We will not tolerate gangs in our community.
One house raided by FBI agents and police at 7 a.m. was on Camellia Drive. Three trucks with FBI agents in full body armor and assault weapons left the house after it was secured while other agents and police removed evidence.
Later, a small child wrapped in a blanket was carried to a waiting car by an FBI agent. Animal control officers then removed a pit bull, held by long restraints on its neck.