By Kathleen Magramo, CNN
(CNN) — A total of 98 people have been arrested in connection with child sex abuse, and 13 children rescued from harm, US and Australian authorities said Tuesday, more than two years after two FBI agents were killed investigating an alleged international pedophile ring.
In a news conference Tuesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) said 79 arrests, 65 indictments, and 43 convictions in the US were carried out as a result of the joint operation, while 19 men were arrested in Australia.
Two FBI agents investigating the alleged ring were shot dead in 2021 while executing a search warrant for a computer programmer suspected of possession of child abuse material, CNN previously reported.
The alleged child abuse ring was a “peer to peer network” with “some offenders committing offenses for over 10 years,” said Australian Federal Police Commander Helen Schneider.
“Some of the children were known to the men who were arrested,” Schneider added, but refused to comment further.
The Australian police investigation began in 2022 when the FBI passed on details of Australian members of a peer-to-peer network allegedly sharing child abuse material on the dark web.
“This operation was highly complex,” the FBI’s legal attaché in Canberra, Nitiana Mann, told reporters Tuesday. “The complexity and anonymity of these platforms means that no agency or country can fight these threats alone.”
Most of the Australian alleged offenders had jobs that required advanced IT skills, police said in a statement.
Members of the network allegedly used “software to anonymously share files, chat on message boards and access websites within the network,” using encryption and “other methods to avoid law enforcement detection,” the statement added.
AFP Commander Schneider said the alleged offenders operated a “sophisticated network.”
“Viewing, distributing and producing child abuse material is a horrific crime, and the lengths that this network went to to avoid detection is an indication of just how dangerous they were,” she said.
“The longer people like this avoid detection, it means the longer the cycle of abuse continues.”
Further arrests could not be ruled out, she added.
More than 200 international leads had been sent to partner countries and more than 300 investigations opened as a result of the joint operation, Mann said.
FBI Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger died in shootout at a Sunrise, Florida apartment complex while executing a federal search warrant on February 2, 2021.
Three other agents were wounded and the suspect in the shooting died at the scene.
At the time, Miami FBI Special Agent in Charge George Piro called the shooting and the loss of Alfin and Schwartzenberger, “a very dark day for the FBI.”
The agents were known for their exemplary efforts in the field, curbing child abuse with their investigatory work and educating students to the perils of sex crimes.
Their deaths marked the first time since November 2008 that an FBI agent was fatally shot in the line of duty.
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CNN’s Hilary Whiteman and Mihir Melwani contributed reporting.