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Joint action in 22 European сountries against online child sexual abuse material in the internet

269 suspects identified and 112 arrested

The Hague, the Netherlands

Law enforcement agencies from 26 European countries, supported and coordinated by Europol, have carried out a major crackdown against online child sex abuse file-sharing networks. So far ‘Operation Icarus’ has helped to identify 269 suspects and arrest 112 suspects, spread across 22 involved countries.*

The operation targeted those sharing the most extreme forms of video material, which included babies and toddlers being sexually abused and raped. A lot of the material seized during the house searches is awaiting forensic examination in order to support follow-up investigations and possible prosecution of offenders. However, this operation has already uncovered previously unknown networks of child sex offenders operating on different internet channels.

«This is the latest major success in over 10 years of Europol supporting law enforcement agencies in Europe in their fight against child sex abuse online.  This operation shows how the internet is helping offenders to develop better techniques for sharing images on a global basis and for protecting their identity.  The problems involved are becoming harder to police and call for sustained efforts by policy-makers and law enforcement agencies to ensure that society’s response remains strong and agile in this area.  Europol is committed to playing a leading part in this work  through its unique capabilities to develop intelligence and digital forensic skills across Europe and through the coordination of major international operations,» says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.

Investigations are on-going and more arrests are expected. Special focus will be on identifying the producers of the material, the suspects and their victims. Among those arrested for downloading illegal material was one who is suspected of grooming a young child, and was arrested before being able meet this child face to face.

Operation Icarus is the first operation concluded under the auspices of the new action plan of the COSPOL Internet Related Child Abuse Material Project (CIRCAMP)**, an initiative by EU police chiefs led by Belgium and funded by the European Commission.

Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs welcomed the joint action saying «These children are victims of multiple crimes. First, when the actual abuse takes place. Then, when it is filmed. And, thereafter, every time the images are posted, circulated or viewed. The joint action carried out under Europol coordination shows our commitment to backing the fight against this appalling crime. It highlights the importance of cooperation between law enforcement authorities at European and international level to tackle criminal activities that know no borders. We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal, including the recently adopted EU directive on the fight against pedo-pornography, sexual abuse and exploitation of minors, to support efforts to combat these horrendous crimes and to help protect our children».

Operation Icarus was initiated during a CIRCAMP meeting at the start of 2011. It was agreed that the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Danish Police (DK NITEC) should be the lead country and carry out the investigations because of its expertise in illegal material exchange through file sharing systems, known as peer-to-peer. After the collection of intelligence by the Danish National Police, an operational meeting was organised at Europol in September 2011, to disseminate intelligence packages to the involved EU Member States and countries with a Europol operational agreement.

Intelligence and additional information was disseminated by Europol through its secure information system in order to guarantee the integrity of data and to ensure a fast reaction in the concerned countries. Europol’s cooperation network will also facilitate further investigations by involving partners such as Eurojust and Interpol when needed.

«Law enforcement agencies have to work together to combat the growing threat of cybercrimes against children, and we have to use the most advanced technology available. The complexity is huge and challenging — for example one of the Danish suspects had 29 terabytes of data that we confiscated. This is an incredible amount of data for our investigators to handle. To put it into perspective, that could hold about 9000 hours of high-quality video,» says Jens Henrik Hoejbjerg, Danish National Commissioner of Police.

* The participating countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Croatia, Norway, Switzerland.

** The members of CIRCAMP are: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Europol and Interpol. 

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