(The Hague) A massive crackdown on drug trafficking on the dark web, the underground version of the internet, has led to 288 arrests, mostly in Europe and the United States, and the seizure of nearly 51 million euros, Europol announced on Tuesday.

Law enforcement seized the illegal platform Monopoly Market, which sold only narcotics, in the latest major operation targeting the dark web, Dutch police said.

A total of “288 sellers and buyers who engaged in tens of thousands of illicit goods sales have been arrested across Europe, Britain, the United States and Brazil,” the official said. European police agency, based in The Hague.

Also seized were 850 kilograms of drugs and 117 firearms, added Europol, which coordinated the international operation “SpecTor” involving nine countries.

Arrested sellers “were also active in other illicit markets”. Some of them were “high value” targets, according to the agency.

The crackdown followed a German police operation in 2021 in which the platform’s criminal infrastructure was taken offline.

“Valuable” evidence was provided by German authorities, which “formed the basis of hundreds of national investigations”, according to Europol.

A total of €51 million was seized in cash and virtual currencies.

The dark web has been under increasing attack in recent years from international police.

Arrests have taken place across the EU – including 52 in Germany, ten in the Netherlands, nine in Austria, five in France, two in Switzerland and one in Poland – but also in the United States (153), the Kingdom United (55), and one person was arrested in Brazil.

A number of investigations have not yet been completed, according to the Dutch police, who do not rule out other prosecutions.

“Criminals may imagine themselves to be anonymous on the dark web, but they are not,” Nan van de Coevering of the Dutch Investigation Service said in a statement.

In response to this operation, “we published a list on the dark web containing all the pseudonyms of arrested sellers who have ceased their illegal practices”, to deter buyers, he said.

The narcotics seized included more than 258 kilograms of amphetamines, 43 kilograms of cocaine, 43 kilograms of MDMA and more than 10 kilograms of LSD and ecstasy pills, Europol said.

“In terms of arrests, the operation was even more successful than previous operations,” Europol praised.

In 2021, 150 people who bought or sold drugs or weapons on the dark web were arrested worldwide in Operation “DarkHunTOR”, and in 2020, 179 sellers of illicit goods were arrested in the “DisruptTor” operation.

Hydra Market, a platform considered “the illegal market with the highest turnover in the world” with 1.23 billion euros in sales in 2020 alone, was dismantled in 2022.

“You find, obviously, when you shut down a dark net, you disrupt the situation for a while,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

But networks ‘can recover, there are other people’, he warned, comparing dark web crackdowns to the ‘game of the mole’, which is hitting as many people as possible with a hammer. of plastic moles among those coming out of the holes of the game console.

“We are hitting as hard as we can,” he said.