Euro police arrest 112 in online child sex-abuse bust

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Police in 22 European countries swooped on 112 suspects for allegedly sharing "the most extreme form" of online videos of children being sexually abused and raped, policing agency Europol said Friday.

"So far in 22 countries we have identified 269 suspects with 112 arrests," Europol director Rob Wainwright said at a press conference at the agency's headquarters in The Hague.

"The operation targeted those sharing the most extreme forms of video material, which included babies and toddlers being sexually abused and raped," he said.

"I have no doubt that the number of suspects will increase in time."

Much of the material seized during some of the house searches in the probe, dubbed "Operation Icarus", is now awaiting forensic examination for follow-up investigations, Europol's top official added.

"However, this operation has already uncovered previously unknown networks of child sex offenders operating on different Internet channels," said Wainwright, specifically those sharing video files via a "peer-to-peer" system.

"It's the worst possible images you can imagine."

In one case, a suspect suspected of grooming a young child online for sex was arrested before being able to meet the child face-to-face, Europol said.

Danish police led the probe because of their expertise in illegal videos through a file-sharing system, Europol said in a statement.

After the evidence was collected, Danish national police met other European police agencies at Europol in September to give them what it termed "intelligence packages".

"The work of the Danish police was conducted in September and the arrests took place in October and November, but it differs from one country to another," said Jens Hendrik Hoejbjerg, Denmark's national police commissioner.

Investigations into online child sex rings are continuing, Wainwright said.

"The investigation is by no means over. We are hunting them down and are doing everything to protect our children," he said.

No specific countries were mentioned by Europol on Thursday with online child sex abuse networks called a "global problem."

But Danish police said 19 men aged between 24 and 55 were arrested for the possession and distribution of child pornography as part of Operation Icarus.

Some 59 computers and 2,430 pieces of hardware including hard drives, USB sticks and DVDs were confiscated, they said in a statement.

Belgian police, in a separate statement, said "19 suspects have been identified in eight judicial districts."

"The investigation in our country is still continuing and so far one person was arrested," they said in the press release without giving details.

Asked whether suspects fitted a specific profile, Danish police's Hoejbjerg said they were people in their 20s to late 50s adding "they come from different professions, and include all walks of life."

In March, police in several countries arrested scores of alleged members of an online paedophile ring and rescued 230 children in what Europol called at the time "the biggest case of its kind" in a network that at one point had almost 70,000 members worldwide.

© 2011 AFP

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