Europol announced today that 'Operation Rescue' has identified more than 600 suspects across the world and 184 suspects have been arrested including police officers, teachers, a scout leader, IT workers and other professionals.
A UK lead international police team have shut down the largest Internet paedophile ring yet discovered. They are calling it the biggest case of its kind that they have ever seen.
In a media conference at the Hague earlier today Europol director, Rob Wainwright said 'Operation Rescue' started three years ago, and targeted an online network based in the Netherlands. At its peak the the network had almost 70,000 members worldwide.
"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.
He says the biggest challenge for the investigators' was tracing the site's host to the Netherlands and cracking the server.
"The man who was controlling this had advanced IT skills. He had imposed very significant security features to the server. And it took our dedicated experts at Europol to break down those security features and piece by piece over months of hard work to rebuild the server."
Along with the Netherlands and the UK, suspects have been identified in Australia, Italy, Canada, New Zealand and Thailand.
The Europol media release says the suspected child sex offenders were members of an online forum 'boylover.net' that was first discovered in 2007 by covert investigators from the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and the Australian Federal Police. The BBC reports that the covert teams identified forum members posing a high risk to children and then tracked these members even when they migrated to other sites.
"It [boylover.net] attempted to operate as a ‘discussion–only’ forum where people could share their sexual interest in young boys without committing any specific offences, thus operating ‘below the radar’ of police attention. Having made contact on the site, some members would move to more private channels, such as email, to exchange and share illegal images and films of children being abused. Computers seized from those arrested have harvested huge quantities of child abuse images and videos."
Europol became involved in 2009 and worked closely with Zaanstreek–Waterland Police in the Netherlands to obtain a copy of the server and rebuild the forum offline for intensive investigation.
As the scale of the international network became clear Canadian, Italian, New Zealand and US law enforcement authorities also joined the Australian, UK and Europol investigators in what became known as 'Operation Rescue'.
On the ABC AM radio program the Australian Federal Police's Grant Edwards spoke about the Australian children who were among the victims.
"Four children were recovered that were in precarious positions where there was very much a risk and a potential for them to be harmed by this group. They've been certainly looked after by the support networks that are in place. Some of those children are potential witnesses as well in regard to ongoing investigations. And might I say that this hasn't actually concluded today. This is really just the public awareness phase of the operation. There will be more arrests."
In a BBC report the head of UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, Peter Davies said:
"Not only is it one of the largest operations of its kind to date - and the biggest operation we have led - it also demonstrates the impact of international law enforcement agencies working together with one single objective, to safeguard children and bring offenders to justice. While these offenders felt anonymous in some way because they were using the Internet to communicate, the technology was actually being used against them."
So far, Europol has distributed 4202 operational intelligence reports to 25 Europian Union Member States and 8 other countries. With investigations still continuing further arrests are expected.