A MAN previously convicted of possessing child pornography is among nine men under investigation as part of a Europe-wide operation against one of the biggest and worst internet paedophile rings uncovered in recent years.
Gardai from the special Paedophile Investigation Unit in Dublin have seized computers and other items in Dublin, Wexford and Waterford in recent weeks. It is understood one man has already been before the courts.
Details of the garda investigations were kept under wraps until the European policing agency, Europol, went public with details of the network -- which has led to police investigations in 22 countries and 112 arrests. The Europol investigation, 'Operation Icarus', has uncovered 269 men as having downloaded "extreme online videos of children, including babies, being sexually abused and raped".
A vast amount of material has been seized, much of it encrypted. One suspect in Switzerland had more than 120 terabytes (1,000 gigabytes) of data -- amounting to thousands of hours of high-definition video footage, Europol said.
The garda operation has been kept tightly under wraps and a man arrested in Dublin after he was found downloading images of children in a city centre internet cafe appeared before a court, but a ban was placed on publication of details.
The paedophile ring which was responsible for generating much of the material is based in Denmark, where 19 men have been arrested and are facing charges. Investigators said one of the men arrested was in the process of grooming a young child and was arrested before an attempted face-to-face meeting.
Europol director Rob Wainwright called the operation a success, but warned that technological advances made detection harder.
He said: "The internet is helping offenders to develop better techniques for sharing images on a global basis and for protecting their identity. The problems involved are becoming harder to police."
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the operation showed the "importance of co-operation between law enforcement authorities at European and international level to tackle criminal activities that know no borders".