German officials are investigating 30,000 suspects in connection with an online paedophile network.
The inquiry began last year when a 43-year-old man was arrested near Cologne for allegedly raping his daughter and sharing video of the abuse.
That initial arrest led police to uncover a sprawling network of suspects – just over 70 of whom have since been identified – in Germany.
Local officials have called the discovery “deeply disturbing”.
Inquiries initially centred on the Cologne suburb of Bergisch Gladbach, where families were reportedly caught swapping pictures of their own children being abused.
The 43-year-old suspect is due to go on trial in August, and others have been arrested.
In May a 27-year-old soldier linked to the network was sentenced to 10 years in prison and placed in a psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period of time.
State Justice Minister Peter Beisenbach told reporters he had not “even remotely” suspected the extent of child abuse circulating online.
“We want to drag perpetrators and supporters of child abuse out of the anonymity of the internet,” he added.
Germany, and specifically North Rhine-Westphalia, has been rocked by several recent child abuse scandals:
- Earlier this month 11 people were arrested for alleged sexual abuse of children after photographs and videos were found in a cellar in Muenster. At the time investigators said they had identified three victims aged five, 10 and 12
- In an earlier scandal, it was discovered that several men had abused children several hundred times at a campsite in Luegde between 1998 and 2018. Most of the victims were between the ages of three and 14 at the time