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South Carolina man kidnapped by suspected drug traffickers found: FBI

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON S.C. (Reuters) - A South Carolina man taken hostage last week in an elaborate kidnapping plot has been rescued, and three people suspected of having ties to a Mexican drug trafficking ring were arrested in the abduction, U.S. authorities said on Wednesday.

The suspects posed as law enforcement officers in order to snatch the 23-year-old man in St. Matthews, South Carolina, on July 9, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

They attached blue lights to a plain car to trick him into pulling over, seized him and drove across state lines to North Carolina in daylight hours, said David Thomas, special agent in charge of the FBI's field office in Columbia.

"It was a high-risk kidnapping," Thomas said.

The victim, who has not been identified, apparently owed money to an international cocaine and marijuana trafficking ring based in Mexico, the FBI agent said.

"They wanted $400,000 for him," Thomas said. "They said they would kill him if the family didn't come up with the money."

The kidnap victim was freed unharmed on Tuesday when the FBI raided a home in Cumberland County, North Carolina, ending a manhunt that included more than 300 law enforcement agents in the United States and Mexico, officials said.

Three men arrested in the kidnapping were arraigned on Wednesday in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ruben Ceja-Rangel, 57, Luis Castro-Villeda, 22, and Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morales, 26, will face federal charges in South Carolina, the FBI said.

Despite cooperation from Mexican authorities, the FBI was unable to track down multiple callers in Mexico who had demanded ransom in the case, Thomas said.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Beech)

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