Related video above: 2 FBI agents killed, 3 wounded, suspect dead in South Florida
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – When two FBI agents were fatally shot in Florida two years ago, their deaths unraveled a suspected international pedophile ring. Now, almost 100 people have been arrested in the United States and Australia over child sex abuse allegations.
In a joint operation with the FBI, named “Operation Bakis,” the Australian Federal Police (AFP) announced Tuesday that 19 men had been arrested on charges of sharing child abuse material online. The AFP said 13 children were also rescued from further harm thanks to the operation.
The new development has brought the total number of people arrested in the joint probe to 98, with at least 79 of the arrests being carried out by the FBI, the AFP said.
In a press release, the Australian agency said Operation Bakis began after two FBI agents, who were investigating the alleged pedophile ring, were fatally shot in 2021 while trying to execute a search warrant at a home in Sunrise, Florida, for a man who was suspected of having child abuse material.
Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were fatally shot, while three other agents were wounded on Feb. 2, 2021. According to NBC News, the gunman, 55-year-old David Lee Huber, was also killed.
The deaths of agents Alfin and Schwartzenberger, who both specialized in investigating crimes against children, sparked the international probe after the FBI provided the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) with intelligence about Australian individuals suspected of being part of a “peer-to-peer network allegedly sharing child abuse material on the dark web.”
While the fatal shooting took place in 2021, the AFP said the coordinated probe wasn’t formally launched until 2022.
According to AFP, the alleged Australian suspects are between the ages of 32 to 81 years old. So far, the agency said two offenders have been sentenced, with others remaining before the courts.
Most of the alleged Australian suspects were employed in occupations that required a high degree of ICT knowledge.
“Members used software to anonymously share files, chat on message boards and access websites within the network,” the AFP press release read.
The agency even reported that some of the suspects are also accused of producing their own child abuse material.
“Viewing, distributing or producing child abuse material is a horrific crime, and the lengths that these alleged offenders went to in order to avoid detection makes them especially dangerous – the longer they avoid detection the longer they can perpetuate the cycle of abuse,” Australian Federal Police Commander Helen Schneider said in a statement.
“The success of Operation Bakis demonstrates the importance of partnerships for law enforcement, at a national level here in Australia, but also at an international level,” she continued.
“We are proud of our longstanding relationship with the Australian Federal Police resulting in 19 Australian men facing criminal prosecution as a result of our collaborative investigation,” FBI legal attaché Nitiana Mann said.
“The complexity and anonymity of these platforms means that no agency or country can fight these threats alone,” Mann added. As we continue to build bridges through collaboration and teamwork, we can ensure the good guys win and the bad guys lose.”