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Police in Newfoundland have made their first two arrests after an extensive investigation into a porn and prostitution ring that allegedly involved 40 young girls.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary announced yesterday that 30-year-old Mehnad Mahmoud Shablak of St. John's faces 43 charges, including possession of child pornography, forcible confinement, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and sexual interference.

Police say that in Mr. Shablak's case, there were seven alleged victims, aged 13 to 16.

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Mr. Shablak is a native of Kuwait who holds Canadian citizenship.

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Shawn James Newman from nearby Mount Pearl faces 10 charges, including living on the avails of prostitution, compelling a person into prostitution, and assault with a weapon.

There was no word on whether more arrests were pending.

Earlier this month, Police Chief Richard Deering confirmed that a team of 10 officers had interviewed young girls, executed several search warrants and seized some computers.

Chief Deering also said the probe would be extended beyond the province if the investigation determined pornographic images had been distributed on the Internet.

There are indications that yesterday's events are only the tip of the iceberg.

Chief Deering told the media on Feb. 7 that dozens of young girls likely fell victim to the alleged sex ring, believed to have been operating from a downtown fast-food shop.

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The owner of the business could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"This is a major investigation which has the potential of being a huge, huge investigation," the chief said.

The continuing investigation, dubbed Operation Rescue, is a joint effort of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the province's Child, Youth and Family Services Department.

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