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German police break child porn ring
( 2003-09-27 10:44) (MSNBC)

Police have cracked one of the biggest global child pornography networks involving some 26,500 Internet users in 166 countries, German authorities said Friday.

They said suspects were traced using computer files seized last year from a man in the city of Magdeburg. These contained a huge e-mail distribution list that suspected pedophiles used to swap pornographic images of children, some as young as four months of age.

¡°One of the biggest internationally active networks has been smashed,¡± said Curt Becker, justice minister for the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

Officials said the 26,500 suspects worldwide included individuals in the United States, Australia and Switzerland but did not give further details.

In Germany, 530 people ¡ª all men ¡ª had been identified as suspects and were being investigated for possession or distribution of child pornography.

They included police officials, a border guard and ¡°many teachers and educators,¡± said Juergen Konrad, the state attorney general.

In a sweep code-named Operation Marcy and involving some 1,500 police officers, hundreds of raids were conducted and police seized 745 computers, at least 35,500 CDs, 8,300 diskettes and 5,800 videos.

One photograph seized in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia showed a baby of four months being abused.

Public prosecutor Peter Vogt said members of the network had accessed material via a password system. A ¡°manager¡± had checked to make sure participants were contributing, as well as viewing, pornographic images.

Vogt said possession of child pornography could lead to a jail term of up to one year but production and distribution could carry up to 10 years.

The case carried echoes of Operation Landslide, an Interpol-coordinated pedophile hunt that has led to more than 5,000 searches and arrests around the world.

The trigger was the 1999 discovery by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service of a list of 389,000 people who had purchased access to a Web site supplying child pornography.

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