A pan-European investigation into a child abuse website hosted on the dark web, dubbed Elysium, has resulted in the arrest of 14 suspects this week following an intensive probe by Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office and EU crime fighting agency Europol.
Law enforcement arrested the individuals on suspicion of "serious sexual abuse of children" and "distribution of large amounts of child abuse material online". Police said a dozen of those arrested are suspected of having "actively taken part" in the exploitation of minors.
Elysium, which popped up on the dark web at the end of 2016, was designed as a forum and reportedly had more than 87,000 members worldwide.
It was used to exchange illicit material and "make appointments" for members to sexually target children, Europol said in a release on 7 July 2017.
The chat rooms featured languages including German, French, Spanish and Italian. The servers of the website, which was only accessible with the use of special software, have been seized by German police.
The main suspect in the case, a 39-year-old German national, was arrested on 12 June after his apartment was searched and his servers taken offline, the Associated Press (AP) reported on 6 July.
He is suspected of being the administrator and technical manager of the platform.
Another individual, a 61-year-old man from Bavaria, is suspected of production and dissemination of child abuse material alongside the sexual abuse of two children aged five and seven years. The victims were reportedly the children of another Elysium forum member.
An additional arrestee, a 56-year-old from Baden-Württemberg, is accused of being the forum's moderator. In Austria, a 28-year-old male was arrested under suspicion of "severely" sexually abusing his two children and facilitating the abuse of his own children by other suspects.
All of the accused, who remain anonymous, are alleged to have met and communicated via Elysium. Europol, which aided regional authorities by streamlining the exchange of operational data, said more arrests are expected shortly in Germany and other European countries.
Steven Wilson, head of the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, said: "The action [...] has resulted in the arrest of individuals involved not only in the physical abuse of children but the takedown of a platform, Elysium, used to distribute large amounts of child abuse material.
"This is a highly significant action in safeguarding children from abuse."