Many of the “extreme” images in the WhatsApp group had been “normalised by most of its members”, according to police.
33 arrests were made in 11 different countries across three continents, with 17 arrests made in Spain. Many of those arrested or being investigated are under 18, including a 15-year-old boy.
Police arrested two individuals in Uruguay, one of whom was a mother who abused her daughter and then shared the images with the group.
A man was also arrested for downloading child abuse images and encouraging other members of the group to make contact with young girls.
Disturbingly, urged them to seek out migrants who would be less likely to report abuse to the police.
The group has been under investigation for more than two years by Spain’s National Police following an email tip-off that alerted the force to the group’s existence.
The Spanish police coordinated their investigation with Europol, Interpol, and the Police in Ecuador and Costa Rica. As a result of this cooperation, arrests were also made in the UK, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, India, Italy, France, Pakistan and Syria.
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In a statement, the police said the group shared “paedophilic content, sometimes of extreme severity, together with other content that was legal but was not suitable for minors because of their extreme nature”.
Police disclosed that members of the group had even created “stickers”, small digital images similar to emojis, of children being abused. The men and boys arrested in Spain came from a diverse range of social and cultural backgrounds, according to police.
One of the men arrested had fled his home in Italy to Salamanca, when the search was carried out, unaware that it was the Spanish police that had issued the warrant for his arrest.
The investigation will now focus on identifying the children being abused in the images.