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Six evangelical Christians were shot to death at the weekend in El Salvador by gang members, local officials have reported.
The Christian men, whose ages ranged from 16 to 54, were killed in Ahuachapán State, a rural western region close to the Guatemala border.
According to Fox News Latino, those targeted were leaving a church service when gunfire broke out. Investigators have been unable to determine what motivated the shootings, though gang wars frequently occur in this part of the country.
Eight other people were killed in separate gang-related incidents over the weekend.
El Salvador's goverment has struggled to crack down on gangs that control large parts of the country and are seen as the primary driver behind its high murder rate. In a recent five-year span, the U.S. and European governments have invested more than $500 million in violence reduction programs, but the investment has seen little change in the country's violent crime statistics.
In March 2012, Catholic Bishop Fabio Colindres, a military chaplain, brokered a truce between the country's two primary gangs, 18th Street and the Mara Salvatruch. The agreement had an immediate affect on El Salvador's crime rate, and according to a report by the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies and InSight Crime there was half "the murder rate in one of the most violent countries on the planet" following the truce.
In return for the truce, the government promised to build a better social and economic infrastructure to address what it saw as the systemic reasons behind the prevalence of the gangs.
Yet not all were convinced that the idea was sound. Some church members and the United States criticized the move as awarding gang leaders too much political clout. Others claimed that the church's negotiating process had not been transparent and that Colindres had seemed to speak on behalf of the entire Church, when he should have been representing solely himself.
It was also claimed that because of the various leadership crises within the institution, "the Church now finds itself implicated in a process that it is not ready to take institutional ownership of, despite its initial successes."
There were 2,492 homicides in 2013 in El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million. The number was 102 fewer than the 2,594 homicides in recorded in 2012. Prior to the truce, there were 4,000 murders in El Salvador in 2011.
According to the State Department's 2008 International Religious Freedom Report, just over 50 percent of the country is Catholic. Protestants, consisting of high numbers of Baptist and Assembly of God churches, make up 27 percent of El Salvador's population.