At least 150 people have been arrested by European and U.S. authorities after a joint crackdown on traders of drugs, weapons and other illicit goods on darknet e-commerce sites, Dutch media reported on Tuesday citing police agency Europol.
The crackdown, called Operation Dark HunTor, was announced at a U.S. Justice Department news conference where Deputy U.S Attorney General Lisa Monaco warned cyberspace drug sellers: “There is no dark internet. We can and we will shed a light.”
Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy director of the international police agency Europol, hailed the results of Operation Dark HunTor as “spectacular.”
“This operation proves that we can reach (criminals on the dark web) even if they think they are hiding somewhere, they cannot be sure we won’t be there at one moment to knock on their door”, Lecouffe said.
There were 65 arrests in the United States, 47 in Germany, 24 in the United Kingdom, four each in the Netherlands and Italy, three in France, two in Switzerland and one in Bulgaria, the Justice Department said.
The department added that the operation resulted in seizures of more than $31.6 million in cash and virtual currencies as well as 45 firearms. It added that about 234 kilograms (515 pounds) of drugs including more than 200,000 ecstasy, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone and methamphetamine pills were seized, along with counterfeit medicines.
An opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone in the past two decades due to overdoses from prescription painkillers and illegal substances, constituting an enduring public health crisis.
Kenneth Polite, head of the Justice 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. In January this year, Europol announced it had taken down an online marketplace called “DarkMarket” that sold illegal drugs in an operation led by German law enforcement agencies.
The operation focused on sellers and buyers on the darknet rather than the people running the sites as in earlier crackdowns.
The DarkNet and dark web are related terms concerning a part of the internet accessible only using a specialized web browser and the assortment of internet sites residing there.
Darknet markets are e-commerce sites designed to lie beyond the reach of regular search engines. They are popular with criminals, as buyers and sellers are largely untraceable.