BERLIN (AP) — Authorities in western Germany said Monday they have evidence that tens of thousands of people may have been involved with an online child sex abuse network uncovered last year.
The justice minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Peter Biesenbach, said that allegations against members of the pedophile ring include possession and distribution of child sex abuse images, and serious abuse.
“I didn't expect, not in the slightest, the extent of child abuse on the net,” Biesenbach told reporters, adding that specialist investigators have so far counted "more than — and I hope you're sitting down — 30,000 unknown suspected perpetrators.”
Officials later added that members of the network might have used several pseudonyms, reducing the actual number of suspects.
Authorities first stumbled across the network, which was centered on German-speaking countries, last October, after searching the premises of a suspect in Bergisch Gladbach, near the western city of Cologne.
Vast amounts of electronic evidence seized indicates members of the pedophile network exchanged tips on how to commit abuse and urged each other on. Some allegedly arranged to meet in order to abuse a child.
So far, 72 suspects from across Germany have been identified. Ten people have been arrested and eight people have been indicted.
Biesenbach said prosecutors have established a special task force to process further cases and prevent any more children being abused. Officials say 44 victims have been identified, including a 3-month old baby.