Police in the southern Colombian city of Cali arrested 15 people and dismantled a criminal organization that was allegedly recruiting children through their Facebook page with false promises of tryouts with local sports teams. Accused of extortions, robberies and a suspected 15 murders – including that of a policeman in 2013 – the gang, known as ¨La Libertad¨ frequently updated a Facebook page by the same name. 

Minors as young as 14 years old from impoverished backgrounds in the Cali district of Alfonso Bonilla Aragon in the east of the city were promised trials with local football teams and the gang's leader “Don Memo” would make claims that his son had been placed with a Mexican football side.

“That, and the organization of sports championships and football matches in the neighborhood, were the hooks that attracted these boys and then convinced them to commit crimes,” said a spokesperson from the Dijin (The Colombian Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol). Police conducted investigations over a period of one year, observing the Facebook page and noting that many of the children posting images there would pose for the camera with knives and guns.

With 840 members or “friends” and ties to other city organizations, “La Libertad” became one of the most important gangs in the area and police began their sting operation by following a youngster by the name of “Lulo” who was 10 years old and who regularly updated his status.

Some of the youngsters in question stated in their profiles that their “place of study” was "the best school for thugs". Those arrested are being tried for crimes such as the exploitation of children and adolescents and involving them in illicit activites such as microtrafficking, homicide and carrying firearms.