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Europe

Vast Police Probe Pursues Child Porn

Police across Europe swooped down on dozens of locations and arrested more than 20 suspects in a vast operation against an online child pornography network, the largest of its kind coordinated by Europol.

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Police seized pornography in raids throughout Europe

"Around 150 addresses of a wide range of people suspected of being involved with child pornography were searched (Tuesday) morning," Europol, the European police organization, said in a press release.

The raids, codenamed "Icebreaker," were launched simultaneously in 13 countries after a six-month probe that started with a tip-off from a child defense group.

Europol director Max-Peter Ratzel (photo, below) said he hoped they will "lead the investigators to some of the producers behind these evil deeds."

Max-Peter Ratzel Europol

Europol director Max-Peter Ratzel of Germany

At least 23 people were arrested, and police seized large quantities of equipment including computers, laptop computers, videos and other material containing images of child abuse, mostly of young boys and girls from eastern Europe and southeast Asia. Most suspects are subject to further investigation, according to Europol.

Members of the network downloaded and exchanged pictures of molested children. Europol did not say whether the investigation targeted child sex consumers or producers or both. Depending on their country of residence, suspects could be jailed from one month up to three years for possession of child pornography and up to 10 years for distribution of child-sex images.

Cracking down across borders

Police forces from Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden were involved in the operation, codenamed "Icebreaker" which was led by the Italian police. Canada and Switzerland were also involved in the probe, according to a source close to the French investigation, but the Swiss authorities denied this.

Franco Frattini

Italy's Franco Frattini

The European Commission hailed the clampdown. "This is an important day for the protection of children in Europe," said EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini (photo). "But it is equally an important day for Europe as such as it clearly demonstrates that only with a European joint approach cross-border issues such as organized crime can be effectively addressed."

"The investigation started in Italy around a year ago after we received information from a child defense association and we contacted the Europol when we realized that this was an international network," Italian police colonel Leonardo Alestra told AFP in Rome.

According to a French source close to the investigation, the Italian police, while investigating the contents of a computer hard disk, started up a server that allowed them to connect to up to 200 child sex Web sites from some 20 different countries, most within the European Union.

In Italy, some 60 houses were searched Tuesday but the police did not make any arrests, according to Alestra. About 100 computers were seized as well as 2,000 DVDs and CD-ROMs and 300 video cassettes. Three people were placed under investigation in Portugal.


Policeman and teacher arrested

Scanner und PC: Digitalisierung von Bildern und Dias

Europol said the network's members used advanced techniques to hide their electronic identity and to encrypt their communication. According to Alestra, the users of the Internet sites containing what he called extremely shocking images could only get access to the images after typing several different passwords.

Europol said it coordinated the exchange of information among the different police forces and helped in the identification of suspects.

In France, police arrested 15 people including a policeman and a teacher. Hungarian police arrested three suspects, while one man was detained in Iceland. Four men were arrested in Sweden but later released, police there said. In the Netherlands the state prosecutor's office would not comment on the case because the operation was still underway.



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