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Feds Arrest 255 in Massive Global Child Porn Sting

Authorities identified and rescued 61 alleged victims in a 'disturbing trend' of exploitation.

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As part of its attempt to combat a growing trend of online sexual exploitation, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced on Monday that 255 suspected child predators had been arrested during a nearly five-week sting operation.

[READ: At Least 100,000 Children Being Used in U.S. Sex Trade]

Operation iGuardian, as it was called, was run as a part of the agency's larger Operation Predator and sought to identify and arrest those who allegedly "own, trade and produce" child pornography in the United States and its territories. So far in 2013, the agency has arrested 1,674 people for this type of crime, and more than 10,000 in the last decade.

Authorities also identified and rescued 61 alleged victims in the United States, Canada, Indonesia and the Netherlands, according to a statement from ICE. The suspects, 251 of whom were men and four were women, face charges ranging from online sexual enticement of a minor to child pornography production and traveling with the intent to have sex with a minor. Some were also charged with rape and molestation and distribution of child pornography.

"Protecting our youth in the digital age requires all of us to be on the lookout for child predators abusing and extorting victims online," said ICE Director John Morton in a statement. "We want children to know that it's wrong for any adult to solicit or pressure them for sex and that the law is on their side."

Authorities from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's Homeland Security Investigation unit arrested 225 child predator suspects in the past five weeks, according to the agency. (Paul Caffrey/DVIDS)

Authorities said they made three significant arrests for which they are still seeking additional information. Two of the suspects – Jimmy Caraballo-Colon, 25, and Eduardo Arturo Romero Barrios, 33 – were charged with online sexual enticement of a minor. Those also allegedly escalated into the "sextortion" of multiple victims, when the offenders convinced the minors to produce "additional and increasingly graphic images and videos."

Caraballo-Colon, a former high school cheerleading coach in Puerto Rico, was arrested last month for blackmailing a 17-year-old girl from Colorado that he met online, according to ICE. Upon further investigation, officials identified two more suspected 15-year-old victims, one in California and one in the Netherlands, but believe there may be as many as 80 remaining unidentified victims.

Of the victims identified during the operation, 24 were allegedly engaging online with strangers who sexually exploited them. The ages of the suspected victims ranged from 3 to 17 years old, with the majority falling between 13 and 15 years old.

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"The sad truth is, there are many more child victims of sexual exploitation out there who have not yet been rescued and are still suffering," said John Ryan, CEO of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in a statement. "We know that there's more work to be done so that all child victims receive the help they deserve."

Five Maryland residents were arrested in connection with the operation, according to a CBS affiliate in Baltimore.

One of the suspects, Christopher Barnes, 53, of Anne Arundel County, was arrested on June 20 at a location where officials believed he was meeting a 13-year-old girl for sex, CBS reported.

Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Marcus Brown said in a statement that the state's Internet Crimes Against Children task force has made 526 arrests since 2000, praising federal agents for their efforts.

"Thanks to the essential support of our federal partners and the dedicated efforts of our task force members, Maryland's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has had a significant impact on our fight against the Internet exploitation of children," Brown said in the statement. "I applaud the dedicated members of the 61 task forces across our nation, who daily work together in cyberspace tracking down those who prey on our children."

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