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El Salvador Homicides Jumped 70 Percent in 2015, Data Show

FILE - People arrested for being members of MS-13 (the Mara Salvatrucha street gang), among other crimes, flash their gang's hand sign from inside a jail cell at a police station in San Salvador, Oct.12, 2012.

A surge of gang violence this year has pushed up homicides in El Salvador by about 70 percent from 2014, making it a top contender to overtake Honduras as the world's most murderous nation.

Miguel Fortin, head of the National Forensics Institute, said in an interview that 2015 would end with about 6,650 Salvadorans murdered, against 3,912 last year.

With a population of some 6.4 million people, that equates to about 104 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, above the rate last registered in neighboring Honduras, which in 2012 held the distinction of being the most violent nation.

"This has been the most violent year in El Salvador in terms of murders," Fortin said. "It's a real pandemic."

The death toll is the worst registered in El Salvador since the end of a bloody 1980-92 civil war, in which an estimated 75,000 people died.

According to the most recent U.N. Global Study on Homicide, published in 2014, Honduras had 90.4 murders per 100,000 in 2012 when it topped the list. Venezuela had the second-highest rate at 53.7. El Salvador had 41.2.

By 2014, the Honduran rate had fallen below 70, according to the country's president and data from the National Autonomous University of Honduras' Observatory of Violence program.

El Salvador's police blame the spike in murders on gang violence, which included dozens of attacks on police officers as well as brutal assaults on bus drivers in the summer.

Violence has risen steadily in El Salvador since a 2012 truce between the country's two main gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and its rival Barrio 18, began unraveling last year.

The truce had helped reduce the Central American nation's murder rate in mid-2013 to around five per day, a 10-year low.