Police in Norway have identified more than 50 people suspected of being members of the largest paedophile ring authorities in the country have ever discovered.
Operation Dark Room resulted in the arrest of 20 people, at least one of whom has admitted to sexually exploiting his own children.
Deputy Police Chief Gunnar Floystad said three convictions have already resulted from the probe, and that many of those involved in the ring were highly educated and held good jobs in professions such as politics and the law. According to a report from Aftenposten, one of the men caught in the investigation had previously worked for a number of childcare providers in the western city of Bergen.
Prosecutors say members of the group met on the dark web, using encryption technology such as the Tor browser to hide their true location and identity. Speaking with reporters on Sunday, Floystad said he was unable to reveal more details about the operation until it comes to a close.
According to local media reports, police seized 150 terabytes of child abuse material as part of their enquiries, which began after Norwegian investigators received information about online paedophiles from the FBI in 2015. Norwegian police then arrested a 22-year-old man accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl in Bergen. When he was held, police found a large amount of child abuse material on his computer.
Hilde Reikras, head of Operation Dark Room, told reporters the material police recovered included images and film of the abuse of children of all ages, including babies.
“We have the clear perception that like-minded individuals met with each other in the so-called dark net, where they could talk with one another and cultivate their interest in children in peace,” Reikras said, according to a translation from the Local Norway.
If convicted, the suspects could face as long as 15 years behind bars. They have been charged with offences including child rape, human trafficking, and the production and distribution of child abuse images and videos.
Back in August, a separate clampdown on the distribution of indecent images and film of children on the dark web resulted in arrests in a number of countries, including Norway. The Europol operation resulted in arrests across 26 EU countries, as well as Norway and Switzerland.
Speaking at the time, Steven Wilson, Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), commented: “The targeting of those involved and interested in child sexual abuse and exploitation material is a key part of the work of EC3 and of the support we provide to the member states and third countries. We know that individuals are abusing online platforms and networks to distribute child sexual abuse material and we are determined to target them and bring them to justice.”