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International Child Porn Ring Exposed

Police in seven European countries struck Tuesday at a sophisticated child abuse and pornography ring dubbed "Shadowz Brotherhood," arresting 50 people and seizing computer equipment, CD-ROMs and videos, authorities said.

Police described the images created and distributed by the group as some of the most shocking they had ever seen. Members of the ring allegedly broadcast live pictures of abuse on the Internet and posted images of children, including babies, being sexually abused and tortured.

"In terms of the kind of material they are posting and allowing access to, it's the worst group I have ever encountered," said Detective Chief Supt. Len Hynds of Britain's National High-tech Crime Unit, which coordinated a yearlong investigation with the European police organization Europol.

"This group were using highly sophisticated technical means," he added. "It was a level of sophistication we have not seen in law enforcement before."

In Germany alone, 31 suspects were apprehended. Arrests were also made in Belgium, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, Europol said.

British police said the ring was set up about two years ago and also had members in the United States, Canada, Denmark, Romania and Switzerland.

Hundreds of police officers swooped on suspects' homes in synchronized raids early Tuesday, seizing dozens of computers, videos and compact discs containing obscene images, the British crime unit said.

Police also contacted 62 Internet service providers, telling them to remove material related to the ring from 244 sites.

Hynds said the group had about 100 members, including 23 "systems administrators" who ran the ring's Web site and "monitored bulletin boards and chat rooms ensuring people were using proper security measures and excluded people from the site if they weren't."

Administrators also provided advice about police tactics and techniques so they could avoid detection, he added.

"The Shadowz Brotherhood believed they were beyond the law ... but this shows there is no hiding place for pedophiles," Hynds said.

Sixteen suspected members of the group were already in custody in Britain, Germany, the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada. British detectives also are conducting investigations in Japan and South Korea.

One suspect in the United States, an air force officer, has committed suicide while in custody, police said, without releasing his name.

Authorities say some members of the group sexually abused children and then posted the images on their Web site, which also provided advice on how to meet children in Internet chat rooms.

They used sophisticated encryption techniques, sometimes hiding material in seemingly innocent picture files, officials said.

Police said administrators operated a "star" system to rate members: after initial vetting, new members received a one-star rating, allowing them to view certain chat rooms, newsgroups and bulletin boards.

To gain further stars they had to post images of child sex abuse on the group's site; as they gained stars, they obtained greater access to restricted sites containing the most graphic material.

To further increase security, the group was structured in cells whose members knew only each other, police said.

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