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Haitian charged in U.S. for kidnapping 17 missionaries

July 7 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged a Haitian gang member in connection with the armed kidnapping of 17 missionaries in the Caribbean country last fall.

Jean Pelice, 27, is accused of being a member of the 400 Mawozo gang, which was behind the Oct. 16 kidnapping of one Canadian and 16 U.S. missionaries near the Haitian capital of Port-au Prince.

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Court documents state that the gang members, armed with firearms, kidnapped the missionaries with the goal to ransom $1 million for each hostage and the release of their leader, Joly Germine, who was in jail at the time.

The Justice Department said in a press release that Pelice made his initial appearance in a U.S. courtroom in the District of Columbia Thursday, nearly two months after he was transferred to U.S. custody on May 16.

Germine was indicted by U.S. prosecutors for his role in the kidnapping on May 10, making him the first person charged in connection with the ransom scheme.

Prosecutors accused him of directing the operation from behind bars.

Germine has pleaded not guilty.

The missionaries, some of whom were as young as eight months' old, were from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries and had completed building an orphanage near the capital when they were abducted.

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The majority of the hostages were held for 61 days, with two hostages being released Nov. 18, three on Dec. 5 and the remaining hostages escaping captivity on Dec. 16.

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