The world's largest Internet paedophile ring has been shut down by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. They also arrested 31 Australian men connected to the website airing offensive pictures of abused children.
UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) investigators led the three-year investigation called, "Operation Rescue".
AdvertisementIn the course of the investigation, Europol sent more than 4000 intelligence reports to police authorities in more than 30 countries.
So far, 670 suspects and 230 abused children have been identified worldwide and 184 people have been arrested.
The offenders were part of a Netherlands based online forum promoting sex between boys and adults, which at its height had 70000 members, a majority of them men.
The suspects include teachers, police officers, IT officials, scout leaders among others, from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Iceland, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain, Britain and the United States.
Rob Wainwright, director of the European police agency Europol, said, the members of the network went into a private channel, boylover.net, and used its secret systems to share films and images of abused children.
Peter Davies, head of Ceop, said: "The scale and success of Operation Rescue has broken new ground," adding that the Internet has proved to be fertile territory for people with a sexual interest in children.
He said that for the past few years, child protection agencies had been on the case. By pretending to be online sex offenders and using sophisticated computer techniques, they managed to identify offenders and locate suspect websites.
Davies said: "While these offenders felt anonymous in some way because they were using the Internet to communicate, the technology was actually being used against them."
"Everything they did online, everyone they talked to or anything they shared could and was tracked by following the digital footprint," he added.
Operation Rescue began when Ceop and colleagues in the Australian Federal Police separately identified the site as a key online meeting place for abusers.
The two forces deployed officers to infiltrate the site as paedophiles and identify members who were posing the most risk to children, BBC reports.
In March that year, Ceop identified the owner of the site and the location of its server in the Netherlands who is now cooperating with the Dutch police.
Rob Wainwright of Europol said the man running the server had used "advanced security techniques" which took months to break down.
As investigations continue, more arrests are expected, including in Australia and UK.