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By Veronika Oleksyn
VIENNA, Austria (CP) - Austrian authorities have uncovered a major child-pornography ring involving at least 2,360 suspects from 77 countries who viewed videos of young children being sexually abused. They say users of up to 103 computers in Canada are among those implicated.
Cracking the case is "a strike against child pornography unprecedented in Austrian criminal history," Austrian federal police said Wednesday.
Describing the videos, Chief Insp. Harald Gremel said: "Girls could be seen being raped, and you could also hear screams."
Gremel is the Austrian police expert on Internet crime who headed the investigation. He said the children depicted were aged 14 and under, but noted that no infants were seen in the videos.
In a telephone interview, Gremel said 103 Internet addresses in Canada were among more than 2,360 worldwide seen connecting with the child-porn provider. The information has been turned over to Canadian authorities through Interpol, the international police agency, he said.
Asked how authorities traced the connection to Canada, Gremel said: "We get the IP (Internet protocol) address from the owner of the file-hosting service and we check the IP address. So we can see that it's Canadian IP addresses."
Like a phone number or a street address, an IP address identifies a specific computer on a network. A computer can have one or more users, and one person can operate one or more computers. Thus the exact number of people involved is not immediately clear.
"It's yet to be confirmed if any offences have been committed in Canada," RCMP Sgt. Martin Blais said in Ottawa. No arrests have been made.
Media reports indicate that between 19 and 103 attempts were made in Canada to access the child pornography websites in question, Blais said. "But they cannot be confirmed by us at this time."
Police with the National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre, which fields international tips in such cases, are tracking attempts made within Canada to view the pornography online.
RCMP Supt. Earla-Kim McColl, the officer in charge of the centre, said the Canadian investigation is so far focused on 19 Internet protocol addresses. "It's not as large as what's being reported from the Austrian authorities," she said in an interview. "'We may receive additional information."
"We'll have a look at what the evidence is, we'll attempt to locate jurisdiction and then we will forward it to the (local) investigators."
McColl stressed that such horrific abuses captured on video and posted on the Internet are coming to the attention of Canadian police at a growing pace. "I think it's important for Canadians to understand that we get a file like this about every two weeks now."
In Austria, Interior Minister Guenther Platter said the FBI was investigating about 600 of the suspects in the United States. German authorities were following leads on another 400 people, France was looking into more than 100, and 23 suspects were Austrians, Platter said.
Platter said the videos included images that showed "the worst kind of child sexual abuse."
Gremel said inquiries began in July when a man working for a Vienna-based Internet file-hosting service spotted the pornographic material during a routine check.
The man blocked access to the videos while recording the IP addresses of people who continued to try to download the material. He gave the details to authorities. Neither the man nor the Vienna company were identified, and police said neither was implicated.
Within a 24-hour period, investigators recorded more than 8,000 hits from 2,361 IP addresses in 77 countries ranging from Algeria to South Africa, Gremel told reporters.
Gremel said the link to the videos were posted on a Russian website that is no longer in operation. The videos, hosted on the Austrian server, were freely accessible but users had to pay US$89 by credit card to get more pornographic material.
Investigators believed the video images of girls and boys were made in Eastern Europe and uploaded to the site from somewhere in Britain.
Gremel said that in Austria, the youngest person implicated was 17 and the oldest was 69, with the suspects ranging from students to retirees. No Austrian suspects were yet in custody.
Gremel said he could not provide details about investigations outside Austria but noted that co-operation with Russian authorities had intensified over the past two weeks.




Copyright 2007 Canadian Press