Australian police arrest over 200 after cracking underworld messaging app

08 Juin, 2021, 10:37 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Motorbikes were among items seized in an Adelaide police operation

An global law enforcement operation against organised criminal activity has resulted in mass arrests and struck what the Australian prime minister describes as a "heavy blow" against crime gangs.

Unveiling the "world's most sophisticated" sting, agencies from Australia, Europe, New Zealand and the United States said they "operated" the supposedly secure "AN0M"-enabled phones".

According to the AFP, intelligence gathered from the decrypted messages led to the arrest of 224 suspects on more than 500 charges and the seizure of 3.7 metric tons of drugs and almost $35 million in cash over the past three years in Australia.

The Australian Federal Police said that as a result of the operation, a total of 224 people were now facing more than 500 charges in Australia alone, while six underground drug labs were shut down and firearms and A$45 million (US$35 million) in cash was seized.

"This is a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history", Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Devices with the chat app were distributed in the criminal underworld, reported Australian media. To fill the void, they added, "the Federal Bureau of Investigation operated its own encrypted device company, called "AN0M".

"We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organised crime groups", federal police commissioner Reece Kershaw said.

The operation has led to the prevention of "tonnes" of illicit substances from coming into Australia, Commissioner Kershaw said.

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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.

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

"All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered".

The AN0M app had been one of the encrypted services popular with organised crime gangs, authorities alleged.

"Essentially, we have been in the back pockets of organised crime", he said.

Police also seized assets in Australia which authorities estimated would be worth millions of dollars once they were sold.

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. They said 9,000 police officers were involved worldwide.

In 2020 major crime figures were among over 800 Europe-wide arrests after messages on another encrypted app, EncroChat, were intercepted and decoded.

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