Police from around the world have arrested 184 suspected child sex offenders and identified over 200 victims of child abuse following one of the biggest investigations of its kind by law enforcement agencies across the world, the European Police Office (Europol) said.

The operation has identified 670 suspects and 230 abused children.

The international investigation lasted more than three years.

Europol said its analysts cracked the security features of a key computer server at the centre of the network which uncovered the identity and activity of the suspected child sex offenders.

Europol subsequently issued over 4,000 intelligence reports to police authorities in over 30 countries in Europe and elsewhere, which has led to the arrests of suspects and the safeguarding of children. These reports also identified links between this network and those featured in multiple other investigations.

The suspected child sex offenders were members of an online forum - boylover.net - that promoted sexual relationships between adults and young boys. The website operated from a server based in the Netherlands and, at its height, boasted up to 70,000 members worldwide.

Europol said the website has now been taken down. It attempted to operate as a ‘discussion–only’ forum where people could share their sexual interest in young boys without committing any specific offences, thus operating ‘below the radar’ of police attention. Having made contact on the site, some members would move to more private channels, such as email, to exchange and share illegal images and films of children being abused. Computers seized from those arrested have harvested huge quantities of child abuse images and videos.

Having identified at least 670 suspected offenders, international law enforcement authorities continue to work with forces which are actively pursuing the intelligence arising from Operation Rescue, Europol said. This has led to the arrest of a number of individuals suspected of serious offences against children, who are now awaiting trial.