London A team of international investigators infiltrated an Internet chat room used by pedophiles who streamed live videos of children being raped, rescuing 31 children and identifying more than 700 suspects worldwide.
Undercover officers in Britain, the U.S., Canada and Australia busted up the pedophile ring using surveillance techniques more commonly associated with fighting terrorism and organized crime.
The chat room, which was called "Kids the Light of Our Lives," featured images, including live videos, of children - some only months old - being subjected to horrific sexual abuse, said Jim Gamble, chief executive of Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center.
"You could go and if you were in the club, arrange a time and a place when online you could view a child being raped and brutalized in real time," he said.
Police analyzed images and videos traded by the chat room's members for the smallest clues that could help them identify, locate and rescue the victims.
More than 15 children were found in Britain, Gamble said, declining to give further details.
A Canadian official said authorities there arrested 24 Canadians and rescued seven Canadian children as part of the probe.
Four people have been arrested in Australia, including one who was previously convicted of child pornography charges, officials said today.
Describing it as "a massive leap forward," Gamble said the investigation involved agencies from 35 countries. Investigators made the case public after the sentencing of ringleader Timothy David Martyn Cox on Monday.
Cox, 27, was given an indeterminate jail sentence, meaning he will remain in prison until authorities decide he is no longer a threat to children.
One of his accomplices, Gordon Mackintosh, has pleaded guilty to 27 charges of making, possessing and distributing indecent images and videos. He is awaiting sentencing.
The probe began in Canada in the spring of 2005, then expanded internationally in August 2006 after Canadian officials tipped off authorities in London that they believed the chat room's host was based in Britain.
"Every arrest we make we seize computers and information," said Detective Sgt. Kim Scanlan, of the Toronto police sex crimes unit.
Working with their Canadian counterparts, British police infiltrated the chat room posing as contributors. They traced the host to a farmhouse in Buxhall, 90 miles northeast of London, where Cox lived with his parents and sister. He had operated the chat room out of his bedroom while working for the family's microbrewery.
The evidence police collected in the probe documented shocking abuse, Gamble said.
"(This was) not sharing a historic video ... but a child brought into a room - on Web cam - and brutalized for the pleasure of some deviant individual who might not even be in the same country as that child," Gamble said.
Police arrested Cox on Sept. 28, charging him with nine offenses related to possessing and distributing indecent images of children.
Forensic teams examining Cox's computer found 75,960 indecent and explicit images and evidence that he had supplied 11,491 images to other site users.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment because their investigation is continuing in at least 12 states, which were not identified.