Wikileaks chief: What will he do next?

Julian Assange lies low in UK while enemies call for his blood

Mark Hughes,Michael Savage,Jerome Taylor
Thursday 02 December 2010 01:00

As a fresh batch of leaked files gave new urgency to worldwide controversy surrounding the publication of US diplomatic communiqués, there was continued mystery over the motivation, intentions and whereabouts of the man at the heart of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.

Despite accusations that Julian Assange is on the run, The Independent has learnt that Scotland Yard has been in contact with his legal team for more than a month but is waiting for further instruction before arresting him. Police forces around the globe have been asked to arrest the enigmatic Wikileaks founder, who is wanted in Sweden to answer a series of sexual allegations against him.

But the 39-year-old Australian supplied the Metropolitan Police with contact details upon arriving in the UK in October. Police sources confirmed that they have a telephone number for Mr Assange and are fully aware of where he is staying.

Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) has received the so-called "red notice" – an international arrest warrant – but has so far refused to authorise the arrest of Mr Assange, who is thought to be in South-east England. Until it does, police forces cannot act.

The delay is said to be a technical one, with sources suggesting Soca needed clarifications about the European Arrest Warrant issued by Swedish prosecutors for Mr Assange, a fast-track system for arresting suspects within the EU. His name was added to Interpol's worldwide wanted list on 20 November, but only publicly revealed on Tuesday night. It has focused even greater attention on the man who has been lying low since releasing 250,000 mostly classified cables from US embassies across the globe.

Outrage at the data breach intensified yesterday, with the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan among those to complain.

Friends of Mr Assange said he has been working through the night to protect his website from repeated attempts by hackers to bring it down. Last night, it emerged that Amazon had agreed to stop hosting Wikileaks after pressure from US senators. Wikileaks had temporarily switched to Amazon's servers during the cyber attacks.

Mr Assange's associates refused to reveal his current whereabouts because death threats have been made against him. His lawyer, Mark Stephens, insisted last night Mr Assange was not hiding. He has conducted brief media interviews from his current location.

He is wanted in Sweden on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion, but no formal charges have been filed. Mr Assange has always denied the accusations, saying he had consensual sex with two women during a trip to Sweden in August.

His mother, Christine Assange, spoke of her distress at the Interpol alert issued against her son, adding that she was concerned for his wellbeing. "He's my son and I love him and obviously I don't want him hunted down and jailed," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from her Queensland home. "A lot of stuff that is written about me and Julian is untrue."

The enemies he has accumulated abroad rounded on him yesterday. One former adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, even suggested Mr Assange should be assassinated. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has said the site acted illegally and added there would be "aggressive steps" taken against those who released the information.

Mr Assange's legal team has lodged an appeal with Sweden's highest court against the order to have him returned to Stockholm. Mr Stephens launched a counterattack against Swedish prosecutors yesterday, saying they had failed to meet basic legal obligations such as informing him about the allegations he faces. "Given that Sweden is a civilised country, I am reluctantly forced to conclude that this is a persecution and not a prosecution," Mr Stephens said. "There is no suggestion that he is in any way a fugitive. The police and the security services here know exactly where he is located."

Mr Assange has hinted in the past he may head to Switzerland. He has also been offered safe haven by the government of Ecuador. However, now the Interpol notice has been issued, it will be much more difficult for him to move around the globe unnoticed.

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