Nearly 100 people in the US and Australia have so far been arrested over child sex abuse allegations after the fatal shooting of two FBI agents led to the busting of an alleged international pedophile ring, officials announced on Tuesday.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) said 19 men had been arrested for allegedly sharing child pornography online, while at least 13 children had been saved from further harm through a joint operation with the FBI, dubbed ” Operation Bakis”.
The development brought the total number of people arrested in the joint investigation to 98, with at least 79 arrests made by the FBI so far, according to AFP.
The joint investigation began after two FBI agents investigating the alleged pedophile ring were shot dead in 2021 while executing a search warrant in Sunrise, Florida, against a man suspected of being in possession of child pornography material , noted AFP in a press release.
Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were fatally shot, while the shooter, David Lee Huber, 55, was also killed, NBC News previously reported.
AFP said the coordinated investigation was officially launched in 2022 after the FBI provided the AFP-run Australian Child Exploitation Center with intelligence on Australian individuals suspected of being part of of a “peer-to-peer network that allegedly shared child pornography on the dark web.”
The Australian suspects are aged between 32 and 81, AFP said. So far, two have been convicted, he added.
Most of the Australian suspects were employed in professions that required a high degree of knowledge of internet networks, AFP said.
“Members used software to share files anonymously, chat on forums and access websites within the network,” he said.
Some have also been accused of producing their own child pornography material to share with members of the network, AFP said.
“Viewing, distributing or producing child pornography is a horrific crime, and the efforts of these alleged perpetrators to avoid detection make them particularly dangerous. The longer they avoid detection, the more they can perpetuate the cycle of abuse” , AFP Commander Helen Schneider said in a statement.
“The success of Operation Bakis demonstrates the importance of law enforcement partnerships, domestically here in Australia, but also internationally,” she said.
“We are proud of our long-standing relationship with the Australian Federal Police, which has resulted in 19 Australian men facing criminal charges as a result of our collaborative investigation,” said FBI Legal Officer Nitiana Mann. in a separate press release.
“The complexity and anonymity of these platforms means no one agency or country can fight these threats alone,” Mann said. “As we continue to build bridges through collaboration and teamwork, we can make sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose.”
Mann said 43 people have been convicted of child abuse offenses in the United States as part of the investigation, according to The Associated Press.
The FBI had also alerted other countries to suspects within their jurisdiction, Mann said according to the AP, but did not name those countries.