on Thursday 9 May, 2024

Lebanon judge opens proceedings in child sex trafficking case

Members of the Lebanese police gather outside Baabda prison, Lebanon. (File photo: Reuters)
by : AFP

A Lebanese judge has launched legal proceedings against alleged members of an international sex trafficking network, including three minors, who used video app TikTok to lure children, a judicial official said Thursday.

Last week, Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces said several people had been arrested after children reported being “sexually assaulted and photographed by members of an organized gang, and forced to use drugs in hotels,” in a case that has sparked outcry.

The judge “has commenced proceedings against 12 members” of the alleged network, including three minors, a barber shop owner and a clothes shop owner living in Sweden, the official told AFP, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

They are alleged to have formed “a criminal network for human trafficking and money laundering” and to have used “electronic applications, notably TikTok, with fake names, to lure children and minors,” the official said.

The judge has requested the suspects be questioned and arrest warrants be issued against them, according to the official.

Proceedings were expected to begin imminently against more alleged members of the group, including a taxi driver who transported the children to locations where they were abused, as well as a lawyer, the official added.

Suspects outside Lebanon are in Switzerland, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, the official said, adding that Interpol would be notified once arrest warrants were issued.

The gang, including five suspects already in custody, is alleged to have abused and raped the victims, threatening or attempting to kill some of them, according to the official.

It is also accused of making the children take drugs, taking images of them naked and distributing and selling the images, the official added.

A security official familiar with the investigation told AFP in early May that six children had testified so far and were lured through a “clothing shop account offering deals or promises of being featured in advertisements, or through a hair salon or fake social media accounts.”

A judicial official told AFP last week that the gang had recruited teenagers outside Lebanon “to lure children on TikTok,” adding that 28 suspects had been identified in connection with the case.