Authorities have seized electronic devices and malicious images while identifying 39 suspects, arresting 3 individuals, and rescuing two child victims.
In recent years, Europol has supported law enforcement agencies around the world to identify and arrest hundreds of suspects and to rescue thousands of child victims. To further intensify its efforts to combat online child sexual abuse, Operation MOZAIK 2023 was launched to identify and arrest people utilizing online forums and messaging apps to share child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online.
Europol’s press release states that law enforcement authorities in the Western Balkan region have identified 39 suspects from eight countries. The suspects were involved in a major child sexual abuse racket operating in the Western Balkan region.
Europol supervised this operation, whereas the Slovenian National Police led it. It involved cooperation from agencies in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia (Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary).
A series of law enforcement actions was conducted between 6 and 17 November 2023. During the operation, 41 raids were conducted, and investigators uncovered a vast network of individuals engaged in the sharing/distribution of CSAM.
Authorities managed to seize around 200 items (computers, memory cards, computer servers, and mobile phones) containing images/videos of CSAM were confiscated. Three suspects were already under arrest for crimes involving child sexual abuse.
The identification of 39 suspects marks a breakthrough and an indication of the operation’s success because, in addition to identifying the suspects, the operation also led to the rescue of two child victims. They will receive support to recover from the abuse, whereas the suspects will be tried in court for their crimes.
The Slovenian National Police press release clarified that there are no Slovenian children among the victims. Additionally, the investigation has not confirmed that the suspects themselves created the material under investigation or were involved in physically and sexually abusing children.
“However, with the information collected so far, it was established that some suspects paid for child sexual abuse material with cryptocurrencies, and also operated on the dark web (in the darknet network),” explained the statement.
The operation is the latest in a series of Europol-coordinated actions to combat online child sexual abuse. Earlier in November, Hackread reported that a 36-year-old Lawton, Oklahoma resident, Austen Peppers, was sentenced to over 21 years in prison for advertising and distributing CSAM on the dark web.
Now, the agency has launched a crackdown against CSAM distributors in the Western Balkan region, which is a prioritized region for Europol under its EMPACT framework (European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats) that facilitates cross-border cooperation between law enforcement agencies in Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, and Europol.
Online child sexual abuse is a global problem that requires a global response. The perpetrators of such heinous crimes have been using advanced methods to make money, such as using artificial intelligence (AI) to produce CSAM.
A recent report by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) revealed a significant rise in cybercriminals utilizing generative AI platforms to produce child sexual abuse material (CSAM). This growing preference for deep fake content, particularly involving minors, raises serious concerns due to its potential for widespread harm and the ease with which sex offenders can create and disseminate such imagery.
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