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Interpol: 9 arrested, 50 children rescued in pedophile ring bust

By
Darryl Coote
Police officers collect evidence from Montri Salangam's home following his arrest in January 2018. Photo courtesy of Interpol
Police officers collect evidence from Montri Salangam's home following his arrest in January 2018. Photo courtesy of Interpol

May 24 (UPI) -- Interpol said 50 children had been rescued and nine people had been arrested in Thailand, Australia and the United States following a two-year international investigation into a "dark web" pedophile ring.

More arrests and rescues were expected as police in nearly 60 countries continue to examine the evidence, Interpol said Thursday.

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"Although police have removed 50 victims from harm, they believe an additional 100 more children have suffered abuse, and are currently working to identify those victims," Interpol said in a statement.

The investigation, budded Operation Blackwrist for a bracelet worn by one of the suspects, was launched by Interpol in 2017 after it had discovered material online of 11 boys under the age of 13 being abused, it said.

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The subscription-based website the material came from was located on the dark web, which requires special software for users to access, and for years published images weekly, Interpol said, adding that it was visited by nearly 63,000 people worldwide.

Interpol said the suspects took great care to conceal their identities while also masking the children, leaving few visual and audio clues for the police.

The website's IP, located in Adelaide, Australia, was eventually identified by U.S. Homeland Security investigators, it said.

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The first arrests came in 2018 when Montri Salangam, the website's main administrator, was apprehended in Thailand and Ruecha Tokputza, a second administer, was arrested in Australia.

Salangam had abused the 11 boys, one of whom was his nephew, whose images kicked off the investigation. He had lured the children to his home with food, soccer games and internet access. He was sentenced June 2018 to 146 years in prison for child rape, human trafficking and possession and distribution of child sexual abuse material.

Tokputza was found to have had thousands of images on devices and was sentenced to 40 years in prison, which was the longest sentence ever imposed by an Australian court for child sex crimes, Interpol said.

A third man, a friend of Tokputza and a nursery school teacher, was sentenced to 36 years in prison for the same charges.

"Operation Blackwrist sends a clear message to those abusing children, producing child sexual exploitation material and sharing the images online: We see you and you will be brought to justice," Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock said in a statement. "Every child abuse image is evidence of a crime and Interpol will always provide full support to officers on the ground to help identify and rescue victims around the world."

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