Hundreds arrested in massive global crime sting

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) and Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw

Law enforcement agencies say they’ve arrested hundreds of criminals across the world in a three-year operation after police infiltrated an app. Since 2018, Australian police and the FBI have used the encrypted app, An0m, to keep track of organised crime.

It has led to drug trade arrests in 18 countries across Asia, North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. Australia’s prime minister called the sting a “watershed” operation that had hit criminal gangs globally. “[It] has struck a heavy blow against organised crime – not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world,” he said in a televised press conference on Tuesday.

Australian police were among the first to reveal the sting, called Operation Ironside, on Tuesday.

The plan had been jointly conceived with the FBI. The US agency and Europol will present their own findings later on Tuesday.

The An0m app had been one of the messaging services popular with organised crime gangs, authorities alleged.

After gaining access to the platform, officers were able to read millions of messages in “real time” describing murder plots, mass drug import plans and other schemes.

“All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered, a whole range of things,” said Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw.

He said in Australia police had been able to frustrate drug operations and prevent incidents such as mass shootings in suburbs.

“Knocking out their communications has been a key part of us disrupting the organised crime,” said Commissioner Kershaw.

He said the app access had given law enforcement “an edge that it had never had before”, but added the platform was just one of many messaging apps favoured by organised crime gangs.

Police in the country have arrested more than 200 people – members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian mafia groups, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organised crime groups.

They have also seized 3 tonnes of drugs and A$35m (£19m; $27m) in cash and assets.

Australian authorities said the sting was the nation’s largest police operation and had involved 4,000 police officers. They said 9,000 police were involved worldwide.

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