WikiLeaks arrest looms as site fights to stay online
WikiLeaks faced growing pressure Friday as its founder Julian Assange dealt with a new arrest warrant and death threats, while the website hopped around the globe trying to evade efforts to shut it down.
As the fallout grew from its release of secret US diplomatic cables, the whistleblower site found new domain names in a string of European countries after its original wikileaks.org address was shut down by an American provider.
The elusive Assange, who is believed to be in hiding in Britain, faced fresh trouble as Swedish prosecutors sent out a new international arrest warrant for the 39-year-old Australian over sex assault allegations.
He briefly broke cover Friday in an online forum with readers on The Guardian newspaper to say that if anything happened to him or WikiLeaks then 100,000 encrypted copies of the cables would automatically be released.
"The threats against our lives are a matter of public record. However, we are taking the appropriate precautions to the degree that we are able when dealing with a superpower," Assange wrote.
The Guardian is one of several newspapers publishing extracts from the leaked US memos that WikiLeaks started releasing on Sunday, infuriating Washington and plunging its relations with many countries into turmoil.
A Canadian pundit called earlier this week for Assange to be assassinated, while former US Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said those responsible for the leaks should face execution.
In Stockholm prosecutors said they had sent a new warrant for Assange that included missing elements in the original warrant requested by the British police. Interpol has also issued an appeal for his arrest.
"They were asking for additional information concerning the maximum penalty for all the crimes and infractions on the file. We usually only include the most severe offence," which was rape in this case, Swedish prosecution office spokeswoman Karin Rosander told AFP.
Assange's lawyer in London, Mark Stephens, said that neither Scotland Yard nor he had received the warrant, adding that given the timescale of the previous warrant he expected it could be up to 10 days before it is served.
British police sources indicated, however, that it could be within "a couple of days."
Stephens linked the warrant to the "sophisticated" cyber attacks and other efforts to take down the website, suggesting that a "state actor" was behind efforts to silence Assange.
Assange denies the sex assault charges, which relate to encounters with two women, and has said they are an attempt to smear him.
The whistleblower site came back online early Friday with a new address in Switzerland, six hours after its previous domain name was shut down by a US system provider because of a series of cyber attacks.
But the Swiss site was down by Friday evening too, and WikiLeaks announced on its Twitter account that it had launched three new addresses in the Netherlands, Germany and Finland (wikileaks.nl; wilileaks.de; wikileaks.fi.)
France's Industry Minister Eric Besson meanwhile called for WikiLeaks to be banned from French servers, after discovering that French web provider OVH was hosting the site.
"France cannot host Internet sites that violate the confidentiality of diplomatic relations and put in danger people protected by diplomatic secrecy," Besson wrote to the main French Internet authority.
Amazon booted WikiLeaks off its computer servers on Wednesday following pressure from US politicians, and a day later a group of senators introduced legislation to make it illegal to publish the names of informants serving the US military and intelligence community.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the leaks as "an attack on the world" and has expressed her regret to Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari over their content.
Russia has also been upset by the leaks in which it has been branded a virtual "mafia state" and President Dmitry Medvedev derided as a "Robin" to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's "Batman".
At a press conference on Friday with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- himself a target of some of the cables -- Medvedev said the cables illustrated the "cynicism" of US foreign policy.
Assange, meanwhile, promised that further revelations would be out of this world.
"It is worth noting that in yet-to-be-published parts of the 'cablegate' archive there are indeed references to UFOs," he wrote on The Guardian's website.
© 2010 AFP