Australian Federal Police (AFP) have arrested nine men in relation to an alleged child abuse network that was filmed, photographed and shared online.
- Police described the investigation as the biggest and “most horrific” child-exploitation ring ever uncovered in Australia
- Police say 14 children have been saved from harmful situations
- It’s alleged the men met on the dark web and communicated via an encrypted app
Releasing details of the investigation it said operated across three states, the AFP said 40 charges had been laid.
At least 14 children have been removed from harmful situations.
The investigation began in February after a tip-off from US authorities.
Two men aged in their 20s were arrested on Thursday at Kendall on the New South Wales Mid North Coast and have each been charged with offences relating to the harm and exploitation of children.
The AFP will allege the pair were part of an online network that abused Australian children and recorded the crimes to share with others.
Police said the arrests were linked to alleged criminal activity across New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.
Kendall is the same town where toddler William Tyrrell disappeared in 2014.
The two men lived there at the time, but there is no indication they are suspects in that case.
Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale described the investigation as the biggest and “most horrific” child-exploitation ring uncovered in Australia to date.
She said the investigation involved dozens of specialist operators working around the country who obtained tens of thousands of images.
“Operation Arkstone has shaken some of our most seasoned officers,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.
“A total of 40 charges have been laid, with three of the men facing life imprisonment.
“It takes a network to break a network and to this end, we want to thank our police partners.
“The victims are getting younger and younger [and] this type of offending is becoming more violent and brazen.”
Five other men were arrested in New South Wales, while the remaining two men were arrested in Queensland and Western Australia.
Assistant Commissioner Gale said all victims were boys, aged between four and seven years old.
It’s understood the men met on the dark web — an area of the internet favoured by criminals for its claimed anonymity — and then communicated on an encrypted app.
Police said more alleged abusers associated with the network were yet to be uncovered.
“We are painstakingly reviewing material [with] Interpol-trained victim-identification experts, noting every pixel from evidence,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.