Baby predators horrify police

15 January 2015 - 02:09 By Graeme Hosken
A teddy bear. File photo
A teddy bear. File photo
Image: Thinkstock

He lay asleep in his mother's Plettenberg Bay home unaware that an international police team, co-ordinated by the FBI, were surrounding the house.

Having been tipped off days before by an internet service provider that police from South Africa and Belgium, investigating child porn, had subpoenaed his online history, the 37-year-old man believed he was safe.

He had allegedly spent the previous week covering his tracks, encrypting and deleting files, movies, photos, everything he thought might incriminate him.

Everything but one file, named "rape and kill", which he believed nobody knew of.

But Belgian police had spent months pinning him down. Using the profile of a suspected paedophile in Belgium - arrested in October and on trial - officers from the Antwerp police child sexual-exploitation team profiled a cryptic paedophile on a social media website.

During their search the encrypted "rape and kill" file was seen.

In the three minutes it appeared on the site - a previously unknown meeting space for paedophiles whose alleged fetishes are the abduction, rape, torture and murder of newborn babies and infants in nappies - police copied the internet address of the Plettenberg Bay computer engineer.

The Belgian police contacted their counterparts in the Gauteng family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit, and an officer flew to South Africa last week to join local officers in Operation Cloud 9.

Using specialist cyber technology, they tracked their target, who allegedly logged on to the site for a few minutes at a time.

Police, armed with a search-and-seizure warrant, watched four premises before pouncing on Tuesday morning.

On gaining entry to the double-storey sea-facing home they found the man asleep in a bedroom. They arrested him and seized his laptop, on which Belgian police officer Chief Inspector Tim van Eester found traces of files said to include videos and photographs depicting violent assaults.

Police also found the suspect's site profile and the internet addresses of 334 alleged paedophiles.

Lieutenant-Colonel Heila Niemand, who led the South African leg of the investigation said they were pleased with the arrest and discovery of the addresses, but it was not all good news.

"The images were taken recently, some within the last week. It means these children are being abused and possibly murdered. The man confirmed he was sharing images with others in the country. Our fear is that all over the country these babies are being molested right now," she said.

It was crucial to crack the profiles to identify the perpetrators.

"We only have the site user names, not the real identities, which is what we desperately need."

Niemand said key codes and passwords were needed to enter the site, with access granted by invitation only.

"The members act on instructions of others in the group, going out to 'collect' children, documenting the abuse and sharing their fantasies through images.

"It's the worst we have come across. The first time we have seen the abuse of babies like this."

Van Eester said that while infiltrating the website they had discovered 1700 new images of children who were not on Interpol's database of child-porn victims.

"In the first 10 minutes that we were on his profile we downloaded more than 3000 images. What I saw was pure evil."

He said because of the 334 internet addresses on the South African's profile lots of children could be saved, "but we have to act quickly".

"As we identify internet addresses we are immediately trying to profile them, to locate the children. The images are not taken in studios. The children were in the sanctity of their homes and bedrooms among their toys.

"[There are] conversations about children being abducted off the street and being murdered while being abused.

"It's men and women abusing children and using children to abuse toddlers."

Van Eester said the trick was to work as a "mole" on the site, pretending to be one of the paedophiles by legally taking over their accounts and notifying the authorities in the country they are operating in.

"The problem is users are online for mere minutes. The trick is to catch them as they go online and dump images on the site."