“Thousands of new victims” are expected to be identified in what is thought to be the UK’s biggest “catfish” child abuse investigation, a court has heard.
It was alleged Alexander McCartney, a 21-year-old computer science student from Lissummon Road, Newry, blackmailed young victims from around the world.
US authorities now want to extradite him, Newry Magistrate’s Court was told.
He has already been charged with sexual activity with a child and intimidation to commit sexual activity with a child.
Mr McCartney, who was arrested in July, is also accused of possessing, making and distributing indecent images of children.
Identifying the thousands of alleged victims has become a “mammoth task” the court was told, with the investigation stretching as far as New Zealand.
“Catfishing” is a term used when online scammers use a fake identity or social network profile to contact victims and trick them into believing they are someone they can trust.
The scale of the global investigation into an alleged paedophile network was outlined in a preliminary hearing on Wednesday.
It was confirmed that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has set up a “dedicated team” to specifically examine this case, due to the number of potential victims.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The court heard 12 computer devices were seized from Mr McCartney following his arrest.
The prosecution explained that these devices had the capacity to emulate other computers, giving the operator the ability to make contact with four times as many victims.
“Each emulator has 760 folders, and each of these folders identifies one victim,” a solicitor told the court.
“This is the biggest case in UK history and it will be even bigger now.
“There are a significant number of new victims. There are thousands of new victims expected to be identified across the world.
“There is a small sample being brought forward for prosecution, which is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The solicitor explained that the modus operandi in the case was to “blackmail young victims in to abuse” before trying to get their younger siblings or cousins involved.
“The investigation is a mammoth task, which is based locally to as far as New Zealand,” he added.
“The US authorities have now contacted the PSNI in order to extradite the defendant.”
‘Not all victims identified’
The court heard extradition is being considered because 23 people in the US allegedly bought indecent photographs of children from Mr McCartney.
The defendant was not in court in person on Wednesday but appeared via video link from Maghaberry prison.
The Newry man, who is a final-year student at Ulster University, has been in custody since his arrest in July.
He faces sample charges on offences which are alleged to have taken place on dates between January 2018 to July 2019.
The prosecution told that judge that it will be January before all their material has been gathered for the indictment, but said it was expected that not all victims will have been identified by that stage.
District judge Eamonn King adjourned the case until next month and remanded Mr McCartney back into custody.