Operation Narsil disrupts network of child abuse websites designed to generate profits from advertising

3 August 2023
Tracking the money made by perpetrators and preventing the revictimization of children

LYON, France -- INTERPOL has concluded a two-year global operation to bring to justice criminals operating networks of child sexual abuse websites designed to generate profits from advertising.

Running from December 2021 to July 2023, Operation Narsil also targeted the finance mechanisms used by the website administrators to conduct their online advertising campaigns.

Over two years, INTERPOL member countries worked together using INTERPOL's Worst of List (IWOL), sharing targeted intelligence, pinpointing suspects and coordinating arrests of the people managing the websites.

Created in 2010, IWOL contains a watchlist of websites containing extreme child abuse material.  The General Secretariat headquarters works with law enforcement in all regions so that national Internet service providers close down these websites.

“Operation Narsil sends a strong message to the criminals making money from these websites that INTERPOL, and its alliance of police forces in 195 member countries, know where they are, what they are doing, and how to find them,” said Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General.

“Every time a person clicks on these images, they are effectively entering a crime scene. Identifying and removing these websites reduces the availability and potential normalization of online child abuse material, and, most importantly, reduces the re-victimization of the children abused,” added Secretary General Stock.

Worldwide crime trend

In one case, a brother and sister, both in their early thirties, were arrested as a result of IWOL digital clues and intelligence provided by the global police community pointing investigators to the suspects in Argentina.

Investigations by Argentina’s Victim Identification Office in the Anti Cyber Crimes against Minors Division and the Specialised Cybercrime Prosecution Unit (UFECI), working with Federal Courts in Mendoza Province, led to the identification and arrest of the two suspects.

Fourteen electronic devices were seized from their home as well as cash and credit cards. The siblings are thought to have created, maintained and financially benefitted for more than a decade from websites featuring child sexual abuse material and associated advertising campaigns.

“Given the technological complexities of this case and the degree to which the criminal activity went undetected, these arrests highlight the importance of police cooperation across regional, national, and international borders,” said the Head of Argentina’s Federal Police, Juan Carlos Hernandez, who also serves as delegate for the Americas on INTERPOL’s Executive Committee.

Argentina’s Federal Police search electronic devices seized during Operation Narsil for child abuse images
Officers of Argentina’s Federal Police review materials seized during Operation Narsil
Argentina’s Federal Police reviewing seized materials
Officers of Argentina’s Federal Police review visitor statistics to the suspect’s sites

“With synchronized arrests across continents, this operation confronted global networks that profit from child abuse images and videos. INTERPOL is a strong global network of officers fully committed to putting an end to the online abuse of children, and we applaud the action and incredible results countries have achieved in Operation Narsil,” added Argentina’s Police Chief.

Local crime, global cooperation

Working with the Prosecutor’s Office, Bulgarian law enforcement identified and arrested a 34-year-old man who made his living operating an online forum that facilitated the sharing of child sexual abuse materials.

Bulgarian Police closed the online forum he had been running since 2020 and which is thought to have facilitated access to thousands of media files depicting serious child sexual abuse material.

Following the arrest, investigations are ongoing to identify forum users.

In one case during the Russian leg of Operation Narsil, police authorities arrested two 24-year-old citizens for the production and online circulation of materials depicting the sexual violation of minors. Authorities searched the suspects’ homes, seizing computer equipment containing specialized software for creating and administrating websites, and removable hard drives containing child sexual abuse material.

With the support of US Homeland Security Investigations, Thai police arrested a 45-year-old Thai national for the possession and online distribution of child sexual abuse material. His arrest came after police executed a search warrant at his residence, uncovering large amounts of child sexual abuse material and financial transaction records associated with online distribution of the abuse photos.

Narsil – meaning a longsword which tackles all evil - is one of the first INTERPOL operations to focus on identifying, locating and arresting the people receiving advertising revenues from website visitors interested in viewing the site's child sexual abuse content.

INTERPOL has been monitoring websites disseminating child sexual abuse imagery for more than 13 years and, in collaboration with law enforcement partners across the world, has seized more than 20,000 domains.

Operation Narsil involved investigations triggered by law enforcement in Austria, Argentina, Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom and United States.