Operation Laminar, a child pornography ring that spanned 20 countries, was shut down after New Zealand authorities tipped off Interpol and US child protection authorities, Agence France Presse reported on Tuesday.
Investigators have arrested 55 key suspects in the worldwide distribution of child sexual abuse photos via social networking sites like Facebook, and rescued at least 12 abused children, some of them babies, TV New Zealand reported.
New Zealand's internal affairs investigator Maarten Quivooy said that Facebook cooperated with the operation, and that some of the perpetrators had been referred to authorities by Facebook staff working to eradicate online sexual abuse from the popular social network, according to AFP.
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"There is no safe environment or anonymous area for individuals who think that they can trade and publish child abuse images online, as proved once again by this operation which should serve as a warning to others: You will be caught," Mick Moran, the head of Interpol's crimes against children unit said, according to TVNZ. "While disrupting these networks is a significant part of the investigation, what is more important is that innocent children, and in some cases babies, have been rescued from physical abuse."
According to New Zealand's internal affairs department, the investigation began in October 2010 after the department found images of child sexual abuse being exchanged on sites including Facebook, Socialgo and gru.ps, according to AFP.
The countries involved include the United States, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately 20 percent of all Internet pornography involves children, and an estimated 100,000 websites offer illegal child pornography.
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