Issued on: Modified:
Germany is investigating 30,000 suspects as part of a probe into an online paedophile network, the latest in a series of child sex abuse scandals that prompted authorities to promise a crackdown.
The probe began last October with the arrest of a suspected perpetrator in Bergisch Gladbach, near Cologne.
But investigators digging into the case have turned up a far bigger paedophile network than expected.
"I did not expect, not even remotely, the extent of child abuse on the internet," North Rhine-Westphalia's justice minister Peter Beisenbach told reporters on Monday.
What the investigation team had uncovered was "deeply disturbing", he said.
"We must recognise that child abuse on the internet is more widespread than we had previously thought."
The cyber crime office in North Rhine-Westphalia is now "investigating 30,000 unknown suspects" in the case linked to the city of Bergisch Gladbach, said Beisenbach.
"We want to drag perpetrators and supporters of child abuse out of the anonymity of the internet," he added.
Those being investigated are suspected of sharing "child and youth pornographic content" including "fictitious and/or real acts of abuse" in anonymous online discussion forums and chat groups, the cyber crime office ZAC NRW said in a statement.
To date, just over 70 suspects have been identified throughout Germany.
In May, the first offender — a 27-year-old soldier — was sentenced to 10 years in prison and placed in a psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period.
Germany has been shocked at the discovery of several serious cases of child sex abuse over the past 18 months.
In early June, 11 people were arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing children and filming their actions after videos and photos were seized from the cellar of a 27-year-old man from the city of Muenster, also in North Rhine-Westphalia state.
Investigators said they had identified at least three victims, aged five, 10 and 12 years old.
Officials said then that investigative capacities on child abuse had been increased, which would likely lead to the discovery of more cases.
The case triggered calls from politicians to crack down on those using and sharing child pornography, with calls for it to be classed as a crime rather than just an offence.
"Child abuse cannot be punished like shoplifting. It is murder. Not physically but emotionally. Anyone who molests childrRead More – Source