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Europe

Europol smashes online child porn ring

Police announce one of their biggest successes in smashing a worldwide pedophile network. Over 180 arrests have been made and more are expected in the coming weeks.

child in corner of room

Hundreds of childen have been rescued from their abusers

Police in several countries have arrested 184 alleged members of an international online pedophile ring and rescued 230 child victims of abuse.

"I can confirm that this is one of the most successful police operations in recent years in what is probably the largest online pedophile network in the world," the Europol's director Rob Wainwright told journalists in The Hague.

Europol said the probe, dubbed Operation Rescue, started three years ago and targeted an online network with its server based in the Netherlands. At its height, the network had almost 70,000 members worldwide. It has since been taken down.

The suspects were members of an online forum, boylover.net, which promoted sex between adults and young boys, the policing agency said.

Police in Britain first detected the online forum. The website was well camouflaged and even carried warnings against child pornography.

"It was designed not to be illegal," Peter Davies of Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre told the press conference

The website operated as a forum where members connected without committing an offence.

Camouflaged by a veil of legitimacy

"The website attempted to operate as a discussion-only forum where people could share their sexual interest in young boys without committing any specific offences and operate below the radar," Davies said.

Having made contact on the site, they would then use other channels, like e-mail, to exchange images and films of children being abused.

Europol building in the Hague

Europol has led the massive investigation

Wainwright said investigators had a breakthrough when Europol experts cracked the Dutch-based server's sophisticated security features in 2010 to uncover "this huge network".

In the course of the investigation, the agency sent more than 4,000 intelligence reports to police authorities in more than 30 countries.

Countries involved in the operation included Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain, the UK and the United States.

More arrests are expected

"670 suspects have been identified, 184 arrests have already been made and 230 children, the victims of these terrible crimes, have been identified and rescued from further harm," Wainwright said.

The oldest of the suspects arrested over the past three years was 84. The group included at least one woman.

Police say there's no classic profile of the tens of thousands of users of the website, though most of them seem to be men in their 30s and 40s.

The operation is continuing and more arrests are expected, said Wainwright.

On Tuesday, prosecutors in The Netherlands sentenced the man who masterminded the network to three and a half years in jail. Dutch investigator Joop de Schepper says the 38year old had built up a sophisticated series of firewalls and portals.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg (AFP, AP)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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