SYDNEY (AFP) - Police said Friday they had shut down one of the largest child sex exploitation rings seen in Australia which was dealing in "abhorrent and disgusting" images.
Australian Federal Police arrested and charged 21 people aged between 22 and 76 from around the country but would not give any further details about them beyond saying they were from all walks of life.
Police said they had also identified one child aged under 10 who was known to one of those charged and who appeared in some of the material which the alleged offenders accessed via a peer-to-peer file sharing network.
"The material seized can only be described as abhorrent and personally disgusting," Cyber Crime Operations Commander Glen McEwen told reporters.
Police began examining the network in January and are now sifting through thousands of images, with 26 hard drives found in one home alone, after executing search warrants on close to 40 premises during the week.
"In relation to the actual size, it is large from what we have seen," McEwen said of the network which allowed those involved to access and download material from each other's computers.
"When you look at previous operations of similar activity, this is one of the largest." Those arrested have been charged with possessing, accessing and making available child exploitation material, and police said six more arrests were likely.
McEwen said the investigation had exposed groups of online predators who were allegedly producing, sharing and accessing child sex abuse material and showed that offenders could not escape the law.
"This operation shows that the Internet is not anonymous and if you are involved, or choose to groom children online, or be involved in the production, distribution or access of online child abuse, you will be pursued," he said.
He added: "I would like to stress to any potential offender out there that just because you are dealing with an image of child sexual abuse, doesn't make you any less complicit in the crime."