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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw during a news conference in Sydney on Tuesday. Photo: Mark Evans/Getty Images

An FBI-led sting using an encrypted messaging app has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of suspected organized crime figures around the world, authorities in Australia announced Tuesday.

Driving the news: Authorities decided to use the AN0M messaging app to track suspects globally in an investigation after Aussie police officers and FBI agents came up with the idea to run the platform while having some after-work beers in 2018, according to Australian police.

  • Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw said at a briefing Tuesday that suspected "Australian mafia, Asian crime syndicates," drug traffickers and members of outlawed motorcycle gangs, were among 224 people arrested in the country.
  • Hundreds other suspects were arrested in raids in places including the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East and New Zealand — 18 countries in all, and more arrests were expected.

What they did: In the sting, called Operation Ironside in Australia and Trojan Shield in the U.S., authorities decrypted and tracked some 25 million messages in real-time — monitoring discussions on planned executions, massive drug importations and money laundering.

  • Authorities said Australian fugitive Hakan Ayik, a suspected major drug trafficker, unknowingly helped the sting by recommending the app to associates after being given a device pre-loaded with AN0M, which was sold on the black market.
  • The encryption resulted in criminals being "very brazen," with "no attempt to hide behind any kind of codified kind of conversation," according to Kershaw.
  • "Essentially, they have handcuffed each other by endorsing and trusting AN0M and openly communicating on it — not knowing we were watching the entire time," he added.

By the numbers: Authorities said they prevented one planned mass shooting by an organized crime syndicate in an Australian suburb and 21 murder plots, as they seized over 3 tons of drugs and A$45 million ($35 million) in cash and assets.

  • The sting was the largest operation of its kind in Australia, involving some 4,000 Australian officers, with about 9,000 law enforcement involved globally.

What they're saying: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the briefing the operation "has struck a heavy blow against organized crime ... one that will echo around organized crime around the world."

  • Kershaw said the FBI "had the lead on this," while Aussie police "provided the technical capability to decrypt those messages."
  • "Some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers," he added.

What to watch: The FBI and its European counterpart Europol will announce their own findings later Tuesday, said Anthony Russo, FBI legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Australia.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper

Updated 42 mins ago - Science

NTSB probes crash that killed 10 in Alabama as storm lashes Southeast

A car drives in the rain in Galveston, Texas. Photo: Zeng Jingning/China News Service via Getty Images

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Sunday that it's investigating a fiery multi-vehicle weekend crash in Alabama that killed 10 people, including nine children, as storms swept the Southeast.

The big picture: Saturday's crash on Interstate 65, south of Montgomery, occurred amid a tropical depression that left 13 people dead in Alabama as it triggered flash floods and spawned tornadoes that razed "dozens of homes," per AP.

Laurel Hubbard to become 1st openly trans athlete to compete at Olympics

New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, when she became the first openly transgender athlete to represent NZ. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has announced that Laurel Hubbard has been selected for the women's weightlifting team for the Tokyo Games — making her the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the event.

The big picture: Hubbard, 43, is part of a five-member Kiwi weightlifting team and will compete in the women's super heavyweight category. Meanwhile, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe will become the first openly trans athlete to travel to the Olympics with Team USA, when she arrives in Tokyo as a reserve rider.

American Airlines cuts hundreds of flights amid demand surge

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

American Airlines announced Sunday that it's cutting some 950 flights from its schedule, including 296 this weekend, to reduce potential pressure on its operations, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Driving the news: The U.S. vaccine rollout has led to a massive increase in travel bookings. The airline noted in an emailed statement that it's facing an "incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand."

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