In Australia and the United States, nearly 100 people have been arrested in connection with a global online child abuse network discovered in the wake of a high-profile murder of two FBI agents, authorities announced this week.
The numerous charges for alleged child abuse stem from theDaniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger, who were fatally shot in 2021 while serving a warrant in Sunrise, Florida, to search the apartment of a suspect allegedly involved in a case involving . The deaths of Alfin and Schwartzenberger, who both specialized in investigating crimes against children, sparked a wider international investigation into an illegal online platform whose members are accused of sharing child abuse material on the dark web, according to the Australian Federal Police.
Nineteen Australians, whose ages range from 32 to 81 years old, have recently been charged with alleged involvement in what the agency described in a press release as a “sophisticated” digital network. Members allegedly produced, sought and distributed images and videos of child abuse material on the dark web, officials said.
Two people have been convicted in Australia for their links to the massive investigation, while the others have pending cases in court, according to federal police. In addition to the 19 arrests, authorities also removed 13 Australian children from harm in the course of the investigation. Federal police claim some of those children were “directly abused” and others were removed as a precaution.
The joint investigation, dubbed “Operation Bakis”, involving state and local authorities in different parts of Australia, ran alongside a US investigation led by the FBI. The FBI investigation has so far led to the arrest of 79 people allegedly connected to the online network, the Australian Federal Police said. That investigation led to the conviction of 43 people for child molestation, the Associated Press reported.
The suspects – who have been arrested across Australia, including in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia – collectively face 138 charges in connection with the investigation. A suspect described by federal police as a “civil servant” was already sentenced to 14 1/2 years in prison in June after pleading guilty to 24 charges. In the same month, a call center operator on the NSW Central Coast was sentenced to five years after pleading guilty to possession of an estimated five terabytes of child abuse material.
“The success of Operation Bakis was only possible due to the close working relationship between the AFP-led ACCCE [Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation] and the FBI, and our dedicated staff who never stop working to identify children who are being sexually abused or living with someone sharing child abuse material,” Australian Federal Police Commander Helen Schneider said in a statement.
Schneider added that “the effort these alleged offenders have gone to avoid detection makes them particularly dangerous – the longer they avoid detection, the longer they can perpetuate the cycle of abuse.”
Most of the suspects in Australia worked in jobs that required a high degree of information communication technology knowledge, the federal police said, noting that alleged members of the online platform “used software to anonymously share files, chat on message boards and access to websites within the network.” The suspects are accused of using methods such as encryption to remain anonymous online and avoid being identified by law enforcement.
Both Australian and US authorities noted that the success of Operation Bakis depended on cooperation between agencies in both countries.
“The complexity and anonymity of these platforms means that no single agency or country can combat these threats alone,” FBI legal attache Nitiana Mann said in a separate statement. “As we continue to build bridges through collaboration and teamwork, we can ensure that the good guys win and the bad guys lose.”
Mann said the FBI has notified authorities in other countries of additional suspects in their jurisdictions allegedly connected to the online child abuse ring, but did not say in which countries, according to the Associated Press.