WASHINGTON Federal agents targeting child predators arrested 190 suspects in an operation during the month of May that reached across the United States and into four foreign countries, government officials said on Thursday.
Those arrested possessed, distributed or produced photographs or videos of child pornography. Some of the suspects had sexually assaulted minors or engaged in "illegal sexual enticement," according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which conducted "Operation Orion."
ICE Director John Morton said many of the cases began with a child or teenager "chatting with someone he or she met online."
The agency was publicizing the operation as children across the United States were near the start of long summer vacations when they "have more time and access to the Internet, making this a good time to talk to them about online dangers," Morton said.
Besides the arrests in the United States, suspects were apprehended in Spain, the Philippines, Argentina and the United Kingdom, the agency said.
Operation Orion, named for a hunter in Greek mythology, was conducted by an ICE investigations unit that probes large-scale production and distribution of images of child abuse, as well as individuals who travel abroad to engage in sex with minors.
ICE said that 18 minors were rescued by agents as part of the month-long intensive effort to crack down on child predators.
Lorraine Concha, a special agent in charge in San Diego, said one case involved a child being videotaped with a hidden camera in her own home. She did not provide other details because the case was still under investigation.
But she said that most child predators "will share their treasures - they consider these treasures - with other predators over the Internet. That's the typical case."
An ICE spokeswoman said that the agency in recent years had been making about 1,000 arrests annually of suspected child predators, although that number spiked last year to 1,455.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)