UP TO a dozen Irish people may be involved in what gardai are describing as "the world's largest paedophile ring".
Detectives are investigating a string of suspects after they received significant information about men using a shocking Dutch website. Paedophiles around the world used the now defunct online forum to make contacts before using other means, including email, to exchange child abuse material.
At its height the website had 70,000 members. Garda sources said detectives had been supplied with the internet protocol (IP) addresses of around 12 Irish-based users. IP addresses are unique numerical labels which can be used to identify an individual computer.
Over the past few months officers have been working to establish the identities of the users of those computers. So far there have been no arrests. However, a number of computers have been seized and inquiries are ongoing. The investigations are being coordinated by the Garda's Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit, which is attached to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
The information supplied to Irish detectives came from a major international investigation, codenamed Operation Rescue, which has been ongoing for the past three years. Europol disclosed details of the massive inquiry at a press conference in The Hague yesterday.
Around 670 suspects have been identified and more than 180 people have been arrested so far in countries around the world, with some 230 children also identified and rescued. Some 121 of those arrested were detained in the UK, where the investigation originated. Police forces in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United States are now also involved in the inquiry.
The website is alleged to have been run by Emir Ish-Hurwitz, a 37-year-old Dutchman who is said to have been helped by 10 other suspects. The suspected paedophiles used the site to "share their interest in young boys", including discussion forums on sexual abuse of babies. After "sussing each other out" they would move to secure email channels where child pornography was stored or they would arrange offline meetings to abuse children.
One Spanish suspect who used the site worked in summer camps and is believed to have abused more than 100 children.