The Irishman co-ordinating the global police action against criminals using the internet to sell drugs and guns says the operation resulted in an unprecedented breakthrough in their war on the multi-million euro trade.
Paul Gillen, who was a detective garda inspector before he became head of operations at Europol's cybercrime centre in The Hague, is confident that the action across the EU as well as the US has enabled them to unmask the identity of key players on the 'darknet', the hidden part of the web.
Codenamed Onymous, the operation resulted in 17 arrests, including two suspects in Dublin, and took down more than 410 hidden services.
Bitcoins, the virtual currency, worth about US$1m, were also seized as well as €180,000 in cash, drugs, gold and silver.
Law enforcement and judicial agencies from 17 European countries, including the Garda, took part in the joint action against services linked to the Tor network, which is designed to anonymise real internet protocol (IP) addresses by routing the traffic through other servers.
Up to now, police forces have been unable to break through into the darknet and to find out the names and real addresses of the participants. But developments in recent months culminated in the breakthrough on Thursday.
Mr Gillen said criminals using the darknet had long considered themselves to be beyond reach. "But that is no longer the case," he added.
Officers from the Garda national drugs unit played a key role by seizing encrypted computers while they were in use after raiding a business unit at South Circular Road in Dublin's south inner city.
This allowed them to gain valuable information about the sites being used by two men suspected of being involved in the sale of drugs on the darknet.
Gardai also recovered ecstasy, LSD, and cannabis, with a street value of €180,000 at the premises and in a follow-up search at another address in Harold's Cross. Officers were granted a further three days to question the two suspects at a special sitting of Dublin district court yesterday evening.
Solicitors for the two men had opposed the garda application, with one claiming the detention request was a "fishing expedition" to extract information.
However, this was rejected by the head of the garda unit, Det Chief Supt John O'Driscoll, who said the questioning was based on extensive information gleaned.