Murder of FBI Agents Leads to Almost 100 Arrests in Global Child Sex Abuse Operation

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Authorities announced this week that close to 100 people were arrested in Australia, the United States, and Canada in connection with an online global child abuse network. The network was uncovered following the high-profile murders of two FBI agents.

The multiple charges of child abuse stemmed from the deaths of two FBI agents, Daniel Alfin, and Laura Schwartzenberger. They were shot dead in 2021 in Sunrise, Florida while serving a search warrant at the apartment of an alleged suspect in a case of violent crimes against children.

According to the Australian Federal Police, the deaths of Alfin and Schwartzenberger, both of whom were experts in investigating crimes against minors, prompted a larger international investigation into an illicit internet platform whose members have been accused of sharing material about child abuse on the dark web.

Nineteen Australians ranging in age from 32 to 80 years were charged recently for their alleged participation in what was described by the agency in a press release as a sophisticated digital network. Officials said that members are believed to be responsible for producing, searching for, and distributing images and videos of abuse on the dark web.

According to the Federal Police, two people were sentenced for their involvement in the investigation in Australia, and the other has cases pending in court. The investigation led to 19 arrests and the removal of 13 Australian children who were in danger. Federal police claim that some of these children were “directly” abused and others were taken as a precaution.

The joint investigation, dubbed “Operation Bakis,” involved state and local authorities from various parts of Australia. It ran concurrently with a U.S. FBI investigation. Australian Federal Police reported that the FBI investigation had led to 79 arrests, allegedly linked to the online network. The Associated Press reported that 43 people were convicted of child abuse crimes as a result of the FBI investigation.

The suspects, who were arrested in Australia including the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, South Australia (SA), Tasmania, and Western Australia, face collectively 138 charges connected to the investigation. In June, a suspect who was described by federal police as a “public employee” had already been sentenced to 14 and a half years in prison after pleading to 24 charges. A call center operator from the NSW Central Coast received a five-year sentence in June after pleading to possess an estimated five terabytes worth of child abuse materials.

The success of Operation Bakis is due to the close relationship between the AFP and the FBI’s ACCCE (Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation) and to our dedicated personnel, who never stop working to identify the children who are sexually assaulted and living with someone sharing child abuse materials,” said Australian Federal Police Commandant Helen Schneider in a press release.

Schneider said that the lengths to which these alleged abusers went in order to avoid being detected made them particularly dangerous. The longer they avoided detection, the longer they could perpetuate the abuse cycle.

The federal police in Australia said that the majority of suspects were employed in positions that required high levels of expertise in the area of information and communications technology. They also noted that the alleged online platform members “used software to share files anonymously, chat on message boards, and access websites in the network.” The federal police said that the suspects used encryption and other methods to avoid being identified.

The success of Operation Bakis depends on the cooperation between agencies from both Australia and the United States.

In a separate press release, FBI legal attache Nitiana Man said that “the complexity and anonymity” of these platforms meant that neither agencies nor countries could fight these threats on their own. As we continue to build teams and bridges, we can make sure that the good guys will win and the bad ones lose.

According to the Associated Press, Mann stated that the FBI had alerted authorities of other countries about additional suspects within their jurisdictions, who were allegedly linked to the online abuse ring. However, he did not specify which countries.