Wednesday, September 2, 1998

1:25 p.m. EDT

14 nations join to bust huge Internet child porn ring

About 200 suspects targeted

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Police in 14 countries Wednesday simultaneously raided the homes of about 200 suspected pedophiles, making arrests in what authorities called one of the largest international efforts to break an Internet child pornography ring.

The British National Crime Squad coordinated the early-morning raids as part of an investigation into a U.S.-based club known as "Wonderland." Members, including men and women, exchanged pornographic pictures of children as young as 2 on the Internet, British authorities said.

They said some of the children whose images were used in the club were related to those arrested.

In the United States alone, 34 arrest warrants covering 31 cities were issued, according to U.S. Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Some suspects were taken into custody while others were still being sought, Kelly said. Computers and other related materials were confiscated for analysis, he said.

'From sexual abuse to the actual rape of children'

"The images depict everything from sexual abuse to the actual rape of children," he said at a Washington news conference.

Joining the club required "a stockpile of several thousand images of graphic child pornography," Kelly added.

Kelly said that arrests in the breakup of a pornography ring in San Francisco in 1996 "led to England, where authorities helped uncover a second, larger Wonderland club with links to the United States. Britain shared its findings with U.S. Customs and today's worldwide takedown is the result."

Pedophiles who think they can hide "behind a maze of Internet providers, servers, files and screen names" are wrong, Kelly said. "We will find them and bring them to justice."

Charges will differ from country to country according to their different judicial systems. But charges could range from possession of pornographic material to the more serious offense of sexual abuse of children.

Kelly said the U.S. suspects could receive up to 10 years in prison.

'Stomach-turning' pictures

During the investigation, code-named "Cathedral," police said they found a database containing more than 100,000 pornographic photographs of naked boys and girls and confiscated computers and computer programs from dozens of suspects.

"I am unaware of another police operation (against child pornography) that has ever pulled together so many law enforcement agencies worldwide to effect simultaneous raids and arrests," said Bob Packham, deputy director general of Britain's National Crime Squad.

Detective Superintendent John Stewardson, who led the operation, said children had been abused on a massive scale to produce material to feed the international ring.

"The content would turn the stomach of any right-minded person. It's really disgusting," he said.

Police said they would now attempt to trace some of the children in the pictures.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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Created: >September 2, 1998
Last modified: September 10, 1998

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