WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London Thursday, British police said, ending the long tenure of the anti-secrecy activist in Ecuador's embassy.
Hours later, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Assange had been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted. He was arrested under the U.K/U.S. Extradition Treaty, the Justice Department said. Assange "is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," the Justice Department also said in its press release.
American authorities allege "that in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to ... a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications." Documents filed in federal court were unsealed Thursday, the Justice Department also said.
Assange had been holed up at the embassy in London since 2012, after Ecuador granted him asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden for sexual misconduct allegations.
His attorney, Jen Robinson, said Assange "has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a U.S. extradition request."
The U.K. Metropolitan Police Service said Assange was arrested on a warrant from 2012 for failing to surrender to the court. In an updated statement, the police said he had been "further arrested on behalf of the United States authorities" after his arrival at a central London police station. It cited an extradition warrant under the Extradition Act.
Assange will appear in at Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as possible, London police said.
One case against Assange has expired but he had stayed in the country's London embassy over fears of being extradited and prosecuted in the U.S.
British authorities — respecting the international customs associated with the privileges each nation affords to another's diplomatic facilities — had patrolled the street outside Assange's window but not ventured inside to arrest him.
On the day of his arrest, WikiLeaks pleaded for his protection, tweeting, "Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimize and imprison him."
Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno described the government's decision to withdraw his asylum, describing his "aggressive behavior" at the embassy. Moreno accused Assange of installing prohibited electronic and distortion equipment, blocking security cameras, mistreating guards, accessing embassy files and threatening the Ecuadorian government. He said Assange had intervened in international affairs by working with WikiLeaks to publish leaked Vatican documents.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer representing the unnamed woman who accused Assange of rape, tells NPR by email that she and her client will do everything they can to get the Swedish police to re-open the investigation.
Meanwhile, in Moscow Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed hopes that "all his rights will be respected."
It has long been thought in U.S. national security circles that the snowy-haired, former Australian would face criminal charges filed by the United States over the publication of classified U.S. government documents.
WikiLeaks gained notoriety in 2010 when it began to release troves of U.S. government secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the conduct of diplomacy around the world. The files also revealed the identities of people who had worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, prompting officials to say their lives had been put in danger.
Authorities in the United States have also suggested in court documents that Assange may have played an important role in the attack on the 2016 presidential election.
In January 2019 the Justice Department announced charges against GOP political consultant Roger Stone connected with what authorities called his work as an alleged intermediary between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
Assange and WikiLeaks released an avalanche of stolen material in 2016 which embarrassed political targets, including the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and the chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
Prosecutors say Assange got the emails and other data from Russian military intelligence officers, part of the Kremlin's concerted wave of disruption aimed across the West.
WikiLeaks also revealed information about CIA surveillance tools in a separate release in 2017.
Assange asserted in early 2017 that Russia was not the source of the emails WikiLeaks released, an assertion The Washington Post's Fact Checker gave "three Pinocchios" at the time.
He has denied the accusations against him and insisted that he is a journalist protected by the First Amendment and other free-press laws across the West.
James Doubek contributed to this report.
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