LONDON – German police have arrested four members of a gang suspected of being behind one of the world’s largest child abuse image websites with more than 400,000 members worldwide, police and prosecutors said Monday.
A police operation involving German regional and federal officers raided seven addresses across Germany and arrested three men accused of exploiting Boystown, a platform for distributing indecent images and videos of children, the BKA said, the German Federal Police Agency, in a statement.
Police also arrested a man in Paraguay, who is to be extradited to Frankfurt. The arrests took place in mid-April but were announced on Monday.
The site is no longer in service, according to the BKA statement, adding that an unspecified number of related discussion sites have also been closed.
The arrested suspects, who under German law have not been named, were between 40 and 64 years old.
The three suspects arrested in Germany are accused of founding and maintaining the site, as well as giving advice to members on how to avoid arrest. One of them, a 64-year-old Hamburg, is said to have personally uploaded more than 3,500 images.
“In addition, members of the platform have received safety instructions from them to safely surf ‘Boystown’ to minimize the risk of discovery by law enforcement authorities,” he said. declared the BKA.
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Pan-European police agency Europol participated in the months-long investigation alongside authorities in the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia and Canada.
The site was located on the Dark Web, an encrypted series of web pages that cannot be accessed through normal web browsers or search engines.
Police said the site had been around since at least June 2019 and “served for the global exchange of child pornography by members of the platform, through which mostly boy abuse tapes were exchanged.”
The site was structured to allow easy retrieval of images and videos of the “most serious sexual abuse of young children,” police said.
Two chat areas on the site allowed members to exchange images of abuse in multiple languages.
Europol said in a statement: “Dark web online juvenile offender communities are demonstrating considerable resilience in response to law enforcement actions targeting them.
“Their reactions include the resurrection of old communities, the creation of new communities and the tremendous effort to organize and administer them. “
The case is the latest in a long line of global attempts to tackle the distribution of child abuse images on the dark web. And more raids and arrests could follow in an attempt to shut down other similar sites.
“There were and still are several sites similar to Boystown on the darknet. For this reason, investigations will continue to identify those responsible behind these “dark net” sites, said Julia Bussweiler, a prosecutor, responding to a question from NBC News.
In 2019, US federal prosecutors filed multiple charges against a 23-year-old South Korean man accused of running what they call the world’s ‘largest dark web child pornography market’, with more than 200,000 videos unique.
The dark web has long been associated with a range of crime, including drug dealing and private information hacking.
Several successful large-scale police operations have hampered the activities of illegal markets. In January of this year, Europol announced that it had successfully closed DarkMarket, considered one of the largest in the world with half a million members and more than 140 million euros ($ 168 million) in turnover. business to date.
Patrick Smith reported from London and Carlo Angerer from Munich.