MADRID (AP) " An international law enforcement crackdown on a network that allegedly distributed child pornography via the popular online chat application WhatsApp resulted in the arrests of more than three dozen people in 10 countries, Spanish officials said Tuesday.
The network operated some 100 chat groups with 135 identified users in Europe, Central America and South America, a statement issued by police in Spain said. The statement said that 17 of the 39 arrests were made in Spain.
People also were detained in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Germany, Italy, Paraguay and Portugal.
Files retrieved during an investigation conducted in coordination with Interpol and Europol depicted images of children up to 8 years old being brutally abused, Spanish police said.
Steven Wilson, head of Europol's European Cybercrime Center at Europol told the Associated Press that Spanish police last year discovered a group of individuals using closed groups in the chat application to distribute the pornographic material.
Spanish police said their suspicions were aroused when investigators found a link in a computer network known as The Onion Router, of TOR, that hides the identities of users. It invited people to take part anonymously in child pornography chat groups.
Wilson said the network was run for "self-gratification," not for money.
He said the operation was significant as it was the first time police at an international level had investigated the use of a host platform like WhatsApp for the distribution of child pornography.
Spanish police said they had intercepted 360,000 files. In one raid in northwestern Spain, they found material documenting names, ages, email addresses and meeting places with children, some of them dating back 20 years.