On this list, you’ll find some of the most
terrifying gangs and crime syndicates from
every continent on Earth, with the exception
of Australia and, obviously, Antarctica.
No one’s going to be muscling in on penguin
turf anytime soon.
As for the Land Down Under, it’s because
while Australia has some scary biker gangs,
which are called bikie gangs (how adorable!),
their most dominant crime syndicate is actually
centralized in Europe (and it’s found in
In some cases, these gangs make more money
than Fortune 500 companies, while others generate
very little revenue, but what they all have
in common is that they are terrifying.
The Numbers Gang
Pollsmoor Prison is located in Cape Town,
South Africa, and is famous for two reasons.
The first is that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned
there for six years.
The second is that the prison is basically
run by three different gangs – the 26s,
the 27s, and 29s, or known as a whole as the
The gangs have a pretty easy-to-understand
pitch when it comes to recruiting new members
– join a gang or get raped and possibly
Each gang plays a specific role in the overcrowded
The 26s are physically fit men that are capable
Next is the 27s; they specifically target
guards, which means guards don’t normally
enter the prison itself.
Instead everything inside the prison is controlled
by the gangs.
In order to join the 27s, you have to stab
a guard first.
Finally, there is the 28s, and they have a
pretty open membership.
When a man joins, there are two roles that
he can fulfill for the gang.
They can be part of the gold line, which is
a fighter, or they can choose the silver line,
which is to serve the fighters sexually.
If someone chooses the silver line, they are
initiated into the gang by having sex with
the leader of the 28s, John Mongrel, who came
to Pollsmoor when he was just 14-years-old.
In an interview on the documentary show Ross
Kemp on Gangs, Mongrel was very clear that
the sex involves a lot of eye contact, but
he’s not too big on consent.
Luckily, the gang does not have much influence
outside of the prison, but it should be an
excellent reminder to stay on the right side
of the law if you’re ever in Cape Town.
Sun Yee On
The triads, which is colloquially known as
the Chinese mafia, dates back to the 17th
They originally formed as a society that wanted
to overthrow the Qing dynasty and restore
the Ming dynasty.
They ultimately failed, but the bond between
the members survived.
In the 20th century, the large triad group
started to break up into smaller factions.
When the Chinese Communist Party came to power
in 1949, many of the groups moved to Hong
Kong, while others went to Macau, Taiwan,
and other countries overseas including Canada,
the United States, the United Kingdom, and
Today, it’s believed that there are 57 triad
societies and the biggest of those groups
is Sun Yee On, which was formed in 1919 and
are Hong Kong-based.
It’s unclear how many members they have,
but it is suspected that they have over 60,000
In order to join, a person has to take 36
oaths, like “If I am arrested after committing
an offense, I must accept my punishment and
not try to place blame on my sworn brothers.
If I do so I will be killed by five thunderbolts,”
or “I shall never embezzle cash or property
from my sworn brothers.
If I break this oath I will be killed by myriads
Sun Yee On makes money the same way that many
other gangs do; they run prostitution rings,
fraud schemes, extort legitimate businesses,
and are known to traffic and deal in heroin,
cocaine, and opium.
Supposedly, Sun Yee On made a deal with the
Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico and they now have
access to the raw materials to make methamphetamine.
Sun Yee On’s main form of attack is assaults
with knives because of Hong Kong’s strict
What happens many times is that groups of
men armed with knives, often meat cleavers
which are called “choppers,” swarm their
victims and stab and slash them.
Not all of the attacks are deadly, but they
can leave victims without a limb.
D-Company was started by Dawood Ibrahim in
Bombay (now known as Mumbai), India, in 1976.
Ibrahim was raised Muslim and lived in a predominantly
Muslim area of Bombay.
Despite the fact that his father was a police
constable, Ibrahim and his brother got involved
in petty crime as teenagers and eventually
developed a gang with their friends.
In the mid-1980s, the gang made a power grab
from the gang that had a monopoly over the
Bombay underground, the Lala clan, and after
a short war, D-Company came out the victor.
However, Ibrahim was wanted for murder, so
he was forced to leave India and moved to
Over the next two decades, Ibrahim ran D-Company
and made it one of the biggest crime syndicates
without ever stepping foot in India.
While in exile, Ibrahim masterminded the 1993
Bombay Bombings, which was a series of 12
car bombs planted by D-Company, all detonated
on March 12.
257 people were killed and 713 people were
The apparent motive was revenge for Muslims
being killed in protests in the months preceding
In 2003, Ibrahim was told to leave Dubai after
one of his associates was assassinated in
a popular club there.
It’s believed he then moved to Karachi,
However, the Pakistani government denies any
knowledge of him, although locals can apparently
point out his house.
D-Company is heavily involved in real estate
scams and extortion in Mumbai and the United
Other profitable businesses for the gang include
counterfeiting currency, arms running, and
Japan’s organized crime syndicate, the yakuza,
is comprised of 21 boryokudan (“violence
groups”) and the biggest one is Yamaguchi-gumi,
which is headed by Kenichi Shinoda, who is
the gangs sixth ever kumicho (“chairman”).
The group was founded in 1915 by Harukichi
Yamaguchi in Kobe, Japan.
Yamaguchi-gumi is involved in all levels of
illegal activity like running the red light
districts in Japan, drugs and arms trafficking,
extortion, fraud, and blackmail.
They even fix sumo wrestling matches.
Of course, Yamaguchi-gumi is not above using
violence and they have been involved in several
gang wars throughout the years.
One between 1985 and 1989 got to be so bad
that a local newspaper kept a running score
of how many people died and how many were
Despite being violent gangs, for decades,
Yamaguchi-gumi and the other yakuza families
worked out in the open in Japan and had a
During the 1990s and 2000s, there were about
80,000 yakuza and about half of them belonged
to Yamaguchi-gumi, making them the largest
street gang in the world at the time.
However, the overall yakuza numbers have dwindled
since 2011, because that is when laws were
enacted to restrict the yakuza’s access
Then in 2015, 3,000 Yamaguchi-gumi members
splintered off into a new group.
It was thought this split would lead to a
full out war like the one in the 1980s.
But while there were incidents of violence,
the war has yet to happen.
Currently, Yamaguchi-gumi’s membership is
at about 11,500, but an expert on the yakuza,
Jake Adelstein, thinks that the number will
grow in 2021 when many casinos will open in
Adelstein believes that the yakuza will skim
money from the casino and blackmail people
who lose big at them.
The Albanian Mafia
Not a whole lot is known about the Albanian
mob, and one reason is that Albanians have
a very unique language, so international investigators
have a hard time penetrating their communications.
What is known is that it was started around
the 1950s, when a large group of Albanians
immigrated to Turkey.
This opened up trade routes for heroin from
Turkey into Albania.
In the 1980s, just as communism was about
to fall there, Albanians started to leave
the country, and some of them ended up in
Some men found work with the Gambino family
Before long, they eventually formed their
own gang, Rudaj Organization, and began to
battle the Gambino and Lucchese for territory.
Back in Albania, communism came to an end
in in 1989, and in the chaos, criminal gangs
expanded and gained a lot of power.
Also, since there were Albanian immigrants
in different pockets of the world, like in
the United States, the growing mafia had global
Today it’s believed that there are 15 different
crime families operating in Albania.
Their major areas of revenue are trafficking
heroin and human smuggling.
They are considered a hybrid group, as they
not only deal in criminal activities, but
are heavily involved in political activities
Italy is the birthplace of the mafia.
The term “mafia” was used to exclusively
describe the crime family that is based in
Sicily, which was started in the 1860s during
the chaotic, crime-filled time when Sicily
became a state of the newly formed Italy.
Today, there are four main families in Italy.
The original Sicilian mafia, which is now
known as Cosa Nostra, is still active, but
they aren’t as powerful as they once were.
The other families are the Camorra, based
in Campania; the Apulia-based Sacra Corona
Unita; and finally, the most powerful – ‘Ndrangheta,
which is based in Calabria.
‘Ndrangheta first formed in the Calabrian
prison system in the late 1800s, but they
started to come into power over a century
and a half later in the 1960s and 1970s, when
they would kidnap people for ransom.
Using the ransom money, they invested in cocaine
and were the first family to exploit the drug
Cosa Nostra, who was the dominant gang at
the time, wasn’t as quick to get into the
Instead, they were focusing their efforts
on a violent push back against the government,
who were trying to clamp down on their illegal
A pair of murders that really got the attention
of the police was the killing of two anti-mafia
With the police more focused on their rival,
it gave ‘Ndrangheta room to flourish.
Today, it is thought that ‘Ndrangheta are
responsible for 80 percent of all cocaine
trafficking in Europe.
Besides cocaine, ‘Ndrangheta are also involved
in nearly every other type of illegal activity
that is profitable, with the exception of
From all their illicit activity, ‘Ndrangheta
supposedly makes too much money and don’t
know what to do with it.
The police have audio tape of two gangsters
digging up money they had buried in order
to hide it, and found out millions of dollars
As for how much they make, according to an
Italian think-tank, in 2013 they made $60
billion in revenue, which is about as much
as PepsiCo made in 2016 and about three percent
of Italy’s GDP.
One key to their success is that they are
Many times, the only people who are allowed
into the gang are blood relatives.
This makes it hard for members to testify
against another member because they would
be turning against someone who is literally
a brother, a nephew, or a father, and so on.
Their methods appear to be working because
it’s rare for a member of ‘Ndrangheta
to cooperate with the police.
One recorded case of a police informant working
against ‘Ndrangheta happened in 2010 and
it didn’t end well.
The 35-year-old woman was shot, and her body
dissolved in acid.
So while ‘Ndrangheta may be secretive, they
aren’t afraid to make headlines by using
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
was started in 2004 as al-Qaeda in Iraq and
after several leaders were killed, they changed
their name to the Islamic State of Iraq and
Syria (ISIS), and in between were known as
the Islamic State of Iraq.
These days, the names ISIS and ISIL are basically
Currently, they have strongholds in Iraq and
Many of you reading this are probably thinking
that ISIL is a terrorist group, and you are
However, that label does not make them any
less of a criminal organization.
ISIL uses many of same recruiting methods
as many street gangs.
Notably, they attract young, angry men, not
just from the war-torn areas where they live,
but from across the globe, with the promise
of guns, power, and money.
Their criminal activities include ransom from
kidnappings, selling stolen artifacts, extortion,
and they’re also big into human trafficking.
One thing that ISIL has that none of the other
gangs do is access to oil.
From all their illegal activity, it’s believed
that they make over $1 billion a year.
ISIL’s notoriety on a global scale was helped
by their execution videos that they uploaded
to the internet.
Many times they are beheadings and in some
cases, the executions are performed by children.
Solntsevskaya Bratva is the Russian Mafia,
but very little is known about them.
It’s believed to have been started by Sergei
Mikhailov, who fancies himself more of a businessman
than a gangster.
The syndicate doesn’t have a rigid central
Instead, it’s 10 autonomous groups that
work fairly independent of each other.
However, there is a 12-person board that meets
regularly and they will pool resources.
They also have chapters on every continent
Solntsevskaya Bratva is believed to be one
of the wealthiest and most profitable crime
syndicates in the world.
They are involved in every single aspect of
the Russian criminal underworld and one of
their biggest revenue streams is extortion.
Supposedly, people doing business in Russia
end up paying out about 20% of their profits
to Solntsevskaya Bratva.
If they don’t pay up, their family members
will most likely end up dead.
And if Solntsevskaya Bratva doesn’t have
a problem going after people’s families
over extortion money, one can only imagine
what they do to rivals and people who wronged
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)
The United States has more than its share
of violent gangs and crime syndicates.
There are motorcycle gangs like the Hell’s
Angels and the Mongols, or urban gangs like
the Bloods and the Crips, but for the FBI,
the most troublesome is Mara Salvatrucha,
better known as MS-13.
Currently, they are the only gang that has
a dedicated task force assigned to them.
MS-13 was started in the 1980s in Los Angeles
by immigrants from El Salvador who were fleeing
from a civil war.
Since then, MS-13 have grown to become a “transnational
criminal organization,” and they have 6,000
to 10,000 members spread across 42 states
and D.C., along with international chapters,
which are called cliques, in Canada, Mexico,
El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Gang members are often recognizable because
of their tattoos, which are sometimes on their
face, and their clothing is often adorned
with MS-13 symbols.
Ethnically, they are mainly Salvadorian or
first generation American-Salvadorians, but
there are also some members that are Honduran
and Guatemalan as well.
They often recruit young men, often trying
to get boys who are in middle and high school.
Their main sources of income are dealing drugs,
extortion, robbery, and human trafficking,
often for the sex trade.
One reason that MS-13 worries the FBI so much
is their shocking level of violence.
Often, much of the violence stems from the
fact that MS-13 doesn’t exactly have a hierarchy;
instead they have more of a horizontal system,
with cliques acting autonomously.
This causes tension between the cliques and
it often leads to violent conflicts and civilians
can be caught in the crossfire.
Also, while they are violent in the United
States, they are even worse in Central America.
Their territory in Honduras, El Salvador,
and Guatemala is called the Northern Triangle
and it is the most violent part of the world
that is not at war.
The current major Mexican drug cartels started
off as drug traffickers who shipped cocaine
from Colombia into the United States in the
During that time, the United States government
was cracking down on the Colombian cartels,
but not much was being done in Mexico.
During the ’80s, the two most dominant Mexican
cartels were the Guadalajara cartel and the
In 1989, the head of the Guadalajara cartel
was arrested and the cartel’s trafficking
routes were split up between the three lieutenants,
giving birth to the Sinaloa, Juárez, and
Currently, the Sinaloa cartel is considered
the most dominant cartel because they have
the biggest territory and the most trafficking
routes, which are supposedly approved by the
FBI, into the United States.
This includes a drug route into Chicago, which,
perhaps not so coincidentally, has seen a
dramatic rise in murder.
Meanwhile, the Gulf cartel is considered the
However, the most terrifying cartel is the
third largest – Los Zetas, which means the
The identity of their current leader is unknown
and there could be a good reason for that.
Since its inception, all their known leaders
have either been arrested or killed.
Their last leader was Omar Treviño Morales,
who was arrested in 2015, and the leader before
him was his brother Miguel Treviño Morales,
and he was arrested in 2013.
Los Zetas started off as a 34-man death squad
for the Gulf cartel in 1999.
They were all former Mexican military and
had received elite training.
By 2003, their numbers grew to over 300 men.
After years of infighting, Los Zetas officially
broke away from the Gulf cartel in 2010.
At the time of the split, the US government
said that Los Zetas was “the most technologically
advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartel
operating in Mexico.”
What makes Los Zetas so dangerous is that
they don’t really play by any rules.
For example, in 2009, they broke into the
home of a police chief, shot him and his wife,
who was also a police officer, and then set
the house on fire with the couple’s three
daughters still alive inside.
Another time, in spring 2011, Los Zetas stopped
several buses full of migrants.
They raped the women and then forced the men
to fight gladiator-style to the death.
The winners were then given jobs as assassins
with Los Zetas for their ongoing war with
the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.
Everyone else on the buses were murdered.
After the bus hijacking, 193 bodies were found
buried in 72 graves.
This was just one of several massacres they
committed where dozens of people were senselessly
Not even people on social media can speak
out against Los Zetas.
One citizen journalist, Maria del Rosario
Fuentes Rubio, posted stories and spoke out
against Los Zetas anonymously online for several
months using the hashtag #reynosafollow.
In 2014, a tweet was sent out from her account
that read, “#reynosafollow FRIENDS AND FAMILY,
MY REAL NAME IS MARÍA DEL ROSARIO FUENTES
I AM A PHYSICIAN.
TODAY MY LIFE HAS COME TO AN END.”
That was followed by a tweet that contained
two pictures, one of a woman, presumed to
be del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, looking at the
camera, and the next one was the same woman
with a gunshot wound to her head.
Sadly, the body of Maria del Rosario Fuentes
Rubio has never been found.
Los Zetas have also taken a page out of ISIL’s
playbook and make videos of decapitations.
The videos then somehow make their way online
and, based on a quick Google search, which
we highly, highly advise against, there are
a variety of Los Zetas beheading videos.
Finally, a former leader of Los Zetas liked
to kill his victims by a technique called
guiso, which means stew.
He would stuff someone in a 55 gallon drum
and then burn them alive.
Those are just a few crimes committed by Los
Zetas, but they are responsible for many,
many other horrifying atrocities and are probably
the most terrifying gang in operation right