A large-scale international pedophilia ring has been infiltrated by police and 39 people detained, including 11 Argentines. The network spanned 18 countries in Europe, Central America and South America. Users used Whatsapp to share videos and photos — which number approximately 360,000 according to authorities.

Spanish police are working in conjunction with Europol and Interpol in what they have dubbed ‘Operation Tantalio’ in efforts to bust this enormous ring of pedophiles. When the police entered the home of one of the suspects in Lugo, Spain, they found a diary with details of the children he had abused, including names, locations and dates, some going back 20 years. In total the police claim to have identified 135 users so far, out of which 39 arrests have been made, including 11 in Argentina, 17 in Spain, and others in Colombia, Italy, Germany, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Chile, El Salvador and Portugal. None of the victims have yet been identified.

The network operated over a string of 96 Whatsapp groups, creating and deleting new ones as required. Up to 2000 messages were sent per day in these groups as the users shared hundreds of thousands of photos and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children, some as young as two months old. The admins maintained tight control over group membership: entry was invite-only and members would be removed if they failed to regularly participate in conversation or upload files.

Operation Tantalio began in June 2016 when police uncovered a link online leading to a chat group for sharing child pornography. This web address led to an archive with instructions on how to access the Whatsapp group; here began the real investigation. “There is an exhibition of a physical and sexual force towards minors that is enough to make your hair stand on end,” said Police Chief Rafael Pérez of the Technology Investigation Team in the Spanish National Police Force. Some of the videos that had been shared in the Whatsapp group had been seen by police before; others have been described as “completely new.” The arrests already made and continued efforts by police to track down more members of the group mark an enormous breakthrough in dismantling one of the largest international child pornography distribution rings.