Six suspects have been arrested after Dutch police discovered a secret "hell-like" prison with a torture chamber near the Belgian-Dutch border.
Dutch and French police in May led a "massive" sting operation in which they dismantled the encrypted messaging platform EnCro, widely used by criminal networks in Europe.
The infiltration allowed law enforcement officials to read message exchange in real-time and "over the shoulder of the unsuspecting senders."
On Tuesday, Dutch police said that the probe led them to make a "chilling" discovery after they intercepted photos and messages which led them to a makeshift "hell-like prison" in Wouwse Plantage, some 10 kilometres from the Flemish town of Essen, in the province of Antwerp.
The prison was put together using seven shipping containers, six of which were used as holding cells while the remaining one was "clearly intended and prepared to torture people."
In an online statement, Dutch police said that torture chamber, which the said suspects referred to as 'the treatment room' was outfitted with a dental chair with straps on the armrests and the footrests.
"The image of the sea containers is chilling and nothing short of shocking," police wrote, adding that the containers were sound and heatproof and that each of them was outfitted with a surveillance camera.
"In each of the cells, handcuffs were hanging from the ceiling and put on the floor, so as to chain a standing person with their arms raised. Further, there was only one chemical toilet."
Inside the seventh container, police also said they found items presumably used to torture or "at least put pressure" on victims: pruning shears, loppers, branch saws, scalpels, pliers, extra handcuffs, finger cuffs, tape and balaclavas, as well as black cotton bags that can be put over the head.
Inside the containers, police also found several sets of police gear and uniforms, including bulletproof vests and flashing lights.
By infiltrating the messaging network, Dutch police said they were able to identify and send the network's targetted victims and into hiding, as well as prevent "prepared kidnappings, hostage-taking and other serious violent crimes."
The six suspects arrested will remain in custody for 90 days, police announced Monday, and will be brought before a judge on suspicion of the crimes listed above as well as of "serious abuse, extortion and participation in a criminal organisation."
The Brussels Times