BERLIN – More than 400 suspected paedophiles have been identified in Germany as part of a probe into a huge child pornography network linked to the city of Bergisch Gladbach, investigators said on Wednesday.
A total of 439 suspects have been identified and 65 children have been freed from the clutches of paedophiles since the network was uncovered in October 2019, the Berg special investigation group said.
"We have suspects from all walks of life" including "high earners and highly educated people" as well as "ordinary people", said investigation group leader Michael Esser.
"They went about their work quite normally and there were no indications in the working environment that such acts had been committed," Esser said.
Most of the children were abused by a member of their own family, the investigators said.
The victims were aged between under a year old and 17, with the youngest rape victim just three months old at the time of the crime.
The Bergisch Gladbach case was opened in 2019 with the arrest of a suspect known as Joerg L.
Police then were shocked to stumble upon a vast network of paedophiles who abused children and shared images of the crimes in online chat groups and discussion forums, leading to one of Germany's biggest ever child sex abuse investigations.
The state's justice minister, Peter Biesenbach, announced last year that investigators had come across 30,000 potential suspects connected with the network.
Joerg L. was sentenced to 12 years in jail in October 2020 for sexually abusing his daughter since she was three months old.
He was found guilty of dozens of acts of child abuse and rape as well as distributing child pornography, mostly involving his daughter who was born in 2017.
Germany has been shaken by several serious cases of child abuse in recent years.
Eleven people were arrested in June 2020 on suspicion of sexually abusing children and filming their actions after videos and photos were seized from the cellar of a 27-year-old man from the city of Muenster.
In an earlier scandal in Luegde, 125km from Muenster, several men abused children at a campsite for years.
The government in 2020 agreed tougher punishments for using and sharing child pornography as part of a crackdown on child abuse.