Italian police have carried out raids across Italy against 186 suspected members of a child pornography ring that included three priests, news reports said Tuesday.
The group downloaded pictures and films of sex abuse against victims aged between 4 and 8 from a specialist Web site that could only be entered with a 15-character password and was only accessible for nine days, news agencies ANSA and Apcom said.
Police carried out searches at the homes and offices of the suspects in 16 of Italy's 20 regions, the reports said. The suspects also included a mayor, a police officer and a social worker, according to the reports.
Italy's post and communications police said they could not confirm the reports, citing an ongoing investigation.
During the searches police seized child pornography films from computers owned by the three priests, and were studying some homemade videos picked up in the raids in an attempt to identify children who had been filmed, ANSA said.
In an effort to keep it secret the site had not been given an index page and therefore could not be picked up on Internet search engines, ANSA said. It was run on an Italian server but advertised on a Web site based in an "eastern country" not identified in the reports.
The General Staff noted that the document appeared at a time when Russia was trying to deter the arms race unleashed by the United States