Posing as a female user in Instagram's closed group "Shoutout", a Bangladeshi university graduate and his cousin had been luring juvenile girls from home and abroad into their trap and recording their porn videos for five long years to sell the sensitive contents to the dark web in exchange for Bitcoins.
They first targeted minor girls aged between nine and 13 on different social media, particularly on Instagram.
The pornography gang members then tried to attract the girls by sending them various sexual contents. Once they started responding, the accused blackmailed the girls by threatening to sell their nude videos and photos to the dark web if they stopped sending more nude contents.
The dark web is a part of the Internet that is not indexed by search engines.
After receiving a complaint of such child pornography activity from a victim in the United States on Facebook, the digital forensic team of the cybercrime investigation division of the counter terrorism and transnational crime (CTTC) unit arrested three youths in different areas of Dhaka.
The unit has also found folders containing sensitive videos and photos of 45 victims, including three Bangladeshi juvenile girls.
The remaining 42 victims are from five different countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
The law enforcers also seized 30 gigabytes of contents – around 3,316 photos and videos – which have also been uploaded to Mega Share and Box Drive – two cloud sharing platforms.
All three arrestees are from different reputed private universities. They are Borhan Uddin, 26, a fresh graduate of electronic and electric engineering, his cousin Abdullah Al Mahmud, 25, a bachelor of business administration student, and Avi Hossain, 25, a final semester student of BBA.
How they got caught 'red-handed'
On 2 February this year, the cybercrime investigation division of CTTC under the Dhaka Metropolitan Police received a complaint from a 14-year-old US girl on the unit's Facebook page.
In the complaint, the girl alleged that she had got trapped in 2015 at the age of nine and since then she had been victimised by the accused.
Borhan Uddin had asked her to send more nude videos and otherwise threatened that he would spread 'sensitive' photos and videos to the girl's family members through social media. But the girl finally turned down Borhan's call.
Consequently, Borhan Uddin, by using his fake ID in Instagram, publicised the girl's photos and videos before her family members earlier this year.
At the time, the girl told Borhan that she might go to law enforcers in the US to track him down, but Borhan challenged the girl, saying that she could do nothing to him.
Finally, the girl sought help from the DMP's cybercrime investigation division.
Besides, the cybercrime investigation division also found similar complaints from another 15-year-old American girl on 20 November 2019.
The unit received five other complaints from local and international law enforcement agencies, which prompted it into investigating the crimes, said officials.
Following the complaints, the digital forensic team of the division collected different intelligence data and IP addresses of the accused and on 15 October, it finally knocked on the doors of the perpetrators, who had been recording pornographic videos from juvenile girls from home and abroad.
During a special drive, the forensic team arrested the three in the capital's Sabujbagh, Rampura and Pallabi areas on Thursday, Ishtiaq Ahmed, an assistant commissioner of the forensic team of the CTTC unit, told The Business Standard.
How they lured juvenile girls
In his confessional statement, Borhan told the court that he had registered with Instagram by using a fake female ID in 2015. Then he got connected with a secret group to watch nude pictures and videos in his personal interest.
Noticing Borhan's vibrant activities, the group admin later included him in another secret group named "Shoutout" and provided him with a manual containing a 13-point task list on how to lure girls so that they provided nude contents to pornographers, court sources quoted Borhan as saying.
At the end of the training session, Borhan was advised to open an account on the dark web by using "Tor Browser", registration for which cost around 0.002 Bitcoins.
Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet, while Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and the present value of one Bitcoin is around Tk9.72 lakh.
Borhan's task was to send private messages to different teenage girls and if anyone responded, he applied the 13-point task list to convince them so that they would send small nude video clips and photos to him, sources quoted him as telling the court.
Once the victims sent videos and photos, he used to upload the contents on Instagram secret groups and on the dark web for trade.
As he started receiving responses, Borhan later included his cousin Mahmud one and half years ago after training him on how to convince juvenile girls.
After sending nude photos or videos once or twice, if any victims refused to send more nude contents, the accused used to threaten the girls by saying that they would release the contents on websites, the sources added.
Similarly, Ovi also used to entice juvenile girls after getting connected with them through different dating sites and social media like Facebook and Instagram.
Assistant Commissioner Ishtiaq Ahmed said that the ultimate goal of these syndicate members was earning Bitcoins by selling the nude photos and videos to the dark web.
"We are now trying to get details of the arrestees' associates by analysing their data and cell phones. We might be able to reveal the details clearly after we receive the forensic report of the arrestees' cell phones upon approval from the court," he said.
Ishtiaq further suggested that guardians should remain alert and check what their children did on social media sites so that they did not fall victim to such child pornography.
Assistant Commissioner Ishtiaq Ahmed said the parents of the younger generation needed to be much aware of about cyber activities by their children and monitor their psychological changes.
"Without cyber parenting, we cannot control such crimes. Cyber etiquette and norms must be adopted by the younger generation and they should not share private contents on different social media sites and the dark web."