Europol coordinates police operation against World's largest online paedophile ring

In what has already been qualified one of the biggest investigations of its kind against paedophilia, the police arrested on 16 March 184 suspected child sex offenders and has identified over 200 victims of child abuse. The operation, which counted upon the leading support of Europol, has identified 670 suspects across the world and has achieved to safeguard the highest number of victims in an operation of this kind, with more than 230 safeguarded only the day of the first arrests.

Known as Operation Rescue, this complex case has run for three years, with Europol supporting and coordinating investigations for the last year and a half. Law enforcement authorities have been brought together from 13 countries to track offenders on a truly global scale. These spectacular operational results were the work of effective police cooperation across many countries.

Instrumental to the success was the unique role played by Europol in identifying the members of the child sex abuse network and facilitating operational action by police authorities in all these jurisdictions. The countries involved in the operation included Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States. Some other countries, although not listed, still have investigations ongoing in which suspects have been identified.

Europol's analysts work was also key in cracking the security features of a key computer server at the centre of the network which uncovered the identity and activity of the suspected child sex offenders. Europol subsequently issued over 4000 intelligence reports to police authorities in over 30 countries in Europe and elsewhere, which has led to the arrests of suspects and the safeguarding of children. These reports also identified links between this network and those featured in multiple other investigations.

The suspected child sex offenders were members of an online forum, which has already been taken down, that promoted sexual relationships between adults and young boys. The website operated from a server based in the Netherlands and, at its height, boasted up to 70.000 members worldwide. The site, which  seemed to operate as a ‘discussion–only’ forum, covered a network where members exchanged and shared illegal images and films of children being abused. Computers seized from those arrested have harvested huge quantities of child abuse images and videos.

Having identified at least 670 suspected offenders, international law enforcement authorities continue to work with forces which are actively pursuing the intelligence arising from Operation Rescue. This has led to the arrest of a number of individuals suspected of serious offences against children, who are now awaiting trial. Further to Europol's activities in coordinating law enforcement efforts at EU-level, the European Union has been active in supporting activities to combat violence against children and young people funding Programmes such as Daphne, as well as varied actions aimed, in general, to secure children online.