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Sweden Probes Cyber Attacks After WikiLeaks Arrest

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Swedish law enforcement officials said they are probing cyber attacks that crashed government websites following the U.K. arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden.

The Swedish Prosecution Authority said its website was “deliberately attacked” on the night of Dec. 7 and have referred the matter for investigation. The 39-year-old Australian is in a London jail after Sweden issued an international arrest warrant over rape and molestation allegations.

Hackers have crippled Swedish government websites and those of credit card companies Visa Europe Ltd. and MasterCard Inc. to protest the treatment of Assange and WikiLeaks. The activist’s supporters claim the rape allegations are meant to silence him after he leaked thousands of secret U.S. documents.

“The hacking was a spontaneous outburst of activity from people in the community who are sympathetic,” Assange’s U.K. lawyer, Mark Stephens said today in an interview from his mobile phone. “Some have said it’s Julian’s revenge. That’s totally untrue.”

Stephens, with Finers Stephens Innocent LLP in London, said the hacking was “misguided” and that Assange gave no instructions for such an attack. Stephens regularly represents media organizations, including Bloomberg News.

Denied Bail

Assange turned himself in and was arrested in the U.K. on Dec. 7 after Swedish police issued the warrant. Assange, who was denied bail, challenged the request to turn him over to Swedish authorities and says the sex was consensual. Stephens said the arrest was “political.”

The websites of MasterCard and Visa Europe came under attack by hackers after the companies banned WikiLeaks’ use of their brands in response to the release of thousands of secret U.S. military and State Department documents.

MasterCard and London-based Visa Europe, operator of the largest card network in the European Union, cut-off WikiLeaks for possibly violating their terms of use by releasing the files. The companies followed EBay Inc. unit PayPal, which recently cut access to WikiLeaks for violating the online payment processor’s acceptable use policy.

“There’s no reasonable basis for them to do what they did,” Stephens said. “WikiLeaks has not been accused of doing anything other than that which is morally repugnant to some and morally laudable to others.”

‘No Allegations’

London’s Metropolitan police aren’t investigating the website hacking because “no allegations have been made,” said a spokesman. He declined to specify further.

The cyber attacks “are further evidence of the severity of the problem and the need to tackle it,” Jonathan Todd, a spokesman for European Union Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said by telephone today.

The European Commission, the 27-nation EU’s executive arm, is working with national authorities and the private sector on ways to combat such intrusions, said Todd.

Created in 2006, WikiLeaks receives confidential material and posts it on the Internet “so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth,” the nonprofit organization says on its website. WikiLeaks relies on donations to fund operations and accepts payments via credit card, bank transfer and postal mail, according to the website.

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