Five arrested by Herts police as part of worldwide organised crime operation


An encrypted messaging service used exclusively by criminals has been infiltrated by police in a major operation, leading to hundreds of arrests and the seizure of firearms, drugs and millions of dollars in cash.

Detective Inspector Jon Scurr, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: "This was a huge operation which is still ongoing in Nottinghamshire, with more arrests expected".

Police in the Netherlands said they had made 60 arrests during their investigation, codenamed "Lemont", and had seized 25 tons of drugs, 20 million euros ($23 million), dozens of automatic weapons, 25 cars and expensive watches.

Al Jazeera's Charlie Angela reports.

EncroChat - which sells custom encrypted phones - sent a message to users in June warning them to throw away the devices as its servers had been "seized illegally by government entities".

The National Crime Agency (NCA) says it has made the biggest ever breakthrough against organised crime after an worldwide effort led to the arrest of hundreds of criminals in the UK. That led to the seizure of more than 17,000 pounds of cocaine.

French and Dutch police broke into the EncroChat service two months ago and have been harvesting the data from the criminal-only service that has allowed countries across the continent to take down some of their most significant criminals.

"It has focused on attacking their use of encrypted communication called Encro devices on which individual members of crime groups co-ordinate their illegal activities". This gave them means of communicating between each other which they thought were safe.

EncroChat had promised its users anonymity by never storing decryption keys on its servers.

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"These criminals may have felt untouchable, using a system they thought was under the radar of law enforcement, but this technology is now being used against them".

According to The Guardian, the seized firearms included "an AK-47 assault rifle, submachine guns, handguns" - which had evidently been criminally obtained despite Britain's draconian gun control legislation.

Vendors and privacy advocates have fought against such measures, arguing that the installation of any such backdoors could be abused by both criminals, unfriendly nation states, as well as law enforcement (see: Apple Blasts Judge's iPhone Backdoor Order).

The operation is nonetheless a significant breakthrough for law enforcement agencies that often say encrypted messaging apps stymie criminal and national security investigations.

"It was as though we were sitting at the table where criminals were chatting among themselves really", said Jannine van den Berg, chief of the Dutch National Police Force.

"By dismantling these groups, we have saved countless lives and protected communities across the United Kingdom", he added.

She added: "If you have one of these devices be very anxious because we are probably coming for you".

CNN's Niamh Kennedy contributed reporting.