| Interior minister Guenther Platter in Vienna. (AP)
Vienna,Feb. 7 (AP): Austrian authorities said today they had uncovered a major international child pornography ring involving at least 2,360 suspects from 77 countries who paid to view videos of young children being sexually abused.
Federal police called the case “a strike against child pornography unprecedented in Austrian criminal history”.
Interior minister Guenther Platter said the FBI was investigating about 600 of the suspects in the US. German authorities were following leads on another 400 people, France was looking into more than 100 others, and 23 suspects were Austrians, he said.
Platter said the videos included images that showed “the worst kind of child sexual abuse”.
“Girls could be seen being raped, and you could also hear screams,” said Harald Gremel, an Austrian police expert on Internet crime who headed the investigation, adding that the children were aged 14 and under.
Although officials initially said the children ranged in ages from “0 to 14”, Gremel later said no infants were seen in the videos.
No Austrian suspects were yet in custody, authorities said, adding that they shared their information with law enforcement in other countries in hopes that suspects could be investigated and charged. Gremel said he could not provide details about investigations outside Austria.
Gremel said the investigation began in July, when a man working for a Vienna-based Internet file hosting service approached authorities at the interior ministry to say he noticed the pornographic material during a routine check.
Within 24 hours, the man recorded more than 8,000 hits from 2,361 computer I.P. addresses in 77 countries, ranging from Algeria to South Africa, Gremel told reporters. He said the man blocked access to the videos while recording the I.P. addresses of people who continued to try to download the material, and gave the details to authorities.
Neither the man nor the Vienna company were identified.
Gremel said that in Austria, the youngest person implicated was 17 and the oldest was 69, with the suspects ranging from students to retirees.
Gremel said the videos were posted on a Russian website,www.small.lolitababe.com, which is no longer in operation, and that users had to pay $89 (euro69) to access the material. He said investigators believed the videos — which included images of girls and boys up to age 14 — were made in eastern Europe and uploaded to the site from somewhere in Britain.