LONDON – British police, aided by U.S. authorities, have smashed a global Internet pedophile ring that broadcast live-streamed videos of children being abused, investigating more than 700 suspects worldwide and rescuing 31 children in a 10-month probe, officials said Monday.
Some 200 suspects are based in Britain, said the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center, a government agency. Of the 31 children, some only a few months old, more than 15 were in Britain, the center said. British authorities would not give a breakdown of where the other suspects or children came from, but said more than half the suspects in Britain were already being prosecuted.
The ring was traced to an Internet chat room called "Kids the Light of Our Lives" that featured images of children being subjected to horrific sexual abuse, including the streaming live videos.
Authorities said they used surveillance tactics normally used against terrorism suspects and drug traffickers to infiltrate the pedophile ring at its highest level.
Officials said the United States, Canada and Australia were Britain's main partners in the investigation, which involved agencies from 35 countries. The international investigation dated back to August 2006 until the ringleader's sentencing Monday.
The international probe began after Canadian officials -- conducting their own long-running pedophile investigation -- tipped off authorities in London about a possible British link.
A Canadian official said authorities there have arrested 24 Canadians and rescued seven Canadian children since late 2005.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement joined the British-led operation in December. U.S. officials declined to comment because their investigation is continuing in at least 12 states.
It was unclear whether any of the rescued children had been reported missing, but authorities said the investigation was not linked to the widely publicized disappearance of Madeleine McCann, a 4-year-old British girl who vanished nearly two months ago in southern Portugal.
Toronto police conducted online surveillance along with British police, said Detective Sgt. Kim Scanlan of the Toronto police sex crimes unit, who confirmed the Canadian arrests and rescues of children that began before the British-led probe.
"Every arrest we make we seize computers and information, so there are a number of ongoing investigations," Scanlan said. "There's just been great cooperation. It's a good day, but it's one day out of many."
In Germany, police are investigating two men in connection with the breakup of the ring, the country's Federal Crime Office said.
The host of the chat room, Timothy David Martyn Cox, 27, of Buxhall, who used the online identity "Son of God," admitted to nine counts of possessing and distributing indecent images, authorities said.
Cox was given an indeterminate jail sentence Monday at a court in eastern England. That means he will remain in prison until authorities determine he is no longer a threat to children.
"Today's verdict serves as a powerful warning to those using the Internet to facilitate the sexual exploitation of children," said Jim Gamble, the child protection center's chief executive.
Cox was identified after intelligence linking the chat room to Britain was passed on to the child protection center by Canadian authorities in August 2006. The center is an agency under the Home Office that is made up of officers with special experience in tracking and prosecuting sex offenders.
Cox also had been a member of a U.S.-based online pedophile ring shut down by U.S. authorities in March 2006, Gamble said.
The host of the "Kiddypics" and "Kiddyvids" site in the earlier case adopted the username "G.O.D.," and Cox's online identity "Son of God" was believed to be a reference. It was not immediately clear whether the ongoing U.S. investigation also involved that earlier site.
After Cox's arrest on Sept. 28, 2006, British, Canadian and Australian authorities were able to infiltrate the chat room and collect evidence on the other members. Officers posed as contributors and even pretended to be Cox, running the chat room for 10 days.
At no point did officers distribute illegal images.
Forensic teams examining Cox's computer found 75,960 indecent and explicit images in addition to evidence that he had supplied 11,491 images to other site users.
A man described as Cox's lieutenant, Gordon Mackintosh, tried to resurrect the chat room in January. Authorities in Britain, Canada, Australia and the U.S. again infiltrated the operation.
Upon Mackintosh's arrest in January, authorities assumed his identity online and ran the chat room for three days while collecting information on offenders who traded images.
Mackintosh, 33, has pleaded guilty to 27 charges of making, possessing and distributing indecent images and videos. He is awaiting sentencing.