Europol says a number of those arrested were 'considered high-value targets'. Picture: 123rf
Europol says a number of those arrested were 'considered high-value targets'. Picture: 123rf

Washington  — An international operation on a clandestine part of the internet called the dark web has led to about 150 arrests in the US and Europe and the seizure of drugs, cash and guns, US and European authorities said on Tuesday.

The crackdown, called Operation DarkHunTOR, was announced at a US justice department news conference where deputy US attorney-general Lisa Monaco warned cyberspace drug sellers: “There is no dark internet. We can and we will shed a light.”

The dark web is a collective of internet sites reached only by specialised web browsing software.

Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy director of the international police agency Europol, hailed the results of the operation as “spectacular.” He said the operation sends a message that “no-one is beyond the reach of law enforcement, even on the dark web.”

A number of those arrested “were considered high-value targets” by Europol.

The crackdown stems from a German-led police sting earlier in 2021 taking down the “world’s largest” dark web marketplace, which had been used to facilitate the sale of drugs, stolen credit card data and malware, reports said.

An opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the US in the past two decades due to overdoses from prescription painkillers and illegal substances, constituting an enduring public health crisis.

The operation resulted in the arrests of 150 people accused of being drug traffickers and others accused of engaging in sales of illicit goods and services.

There were 65 arrests in the US, 47 in Germany, 24 in the UK, four each in the Netherlands and Italy, three in France, two in Switzerland and one in Bulgaria, the justice department said.

Italian police also shut down the “DeepSea” and “Berlusconi” marketplaces,  “which together boasted over 100,000 announcements of illegal products”, said Europol.

The department added that the operation resulted in seizures of more than $31.6m in cash and virtual currencies, as well as 45 firearms. It added that about 234kg of drugs including more than 200,000 ecstasy, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone and methamphetamine pills were seized, along with counterfeit medicines.

Kenneth Polite, head of the department’s criminal division, said such trafficking presents “a global threat and it requires a global response”.

The justice department said the crackdown built on operations conducted in late 2020 and early 2021 to disrupt dark web trafficking.  



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