WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Arrested In London

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By Patrick Smith and Alex Johnson

LONDON — Julian Assange, the fugitive founder of WikiLeaks and publisher of state secrets that embarrassed governments across the world, was arrested in London on Thursday almost seven years after he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Assange was wanted by British police for skipping bail in August 2012, while he was under investigation for sexual assault and rape in Sweden.

London’s Metropolitan Police said the Ecuadorian government had withdrawn asylum for Assange, adding that officers had been “invited into the embassy by the ambassador.”

Footage shot by the Ruptly news agency showed a bedraggled Assange being carried out of the building by seven men.

As he was bundled into a waiting police van, Assange shouted: “You must resist. You can resist … the U.K. must resist.”

He was taken to a local police station and is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court “as soon as is possible,” authorities said.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said in a video message that Assange had his diplomatic asylum withdrawn due to “repeatedly violating international conventions.”

Alan Duncan, a British government minister, welcomed Assange’s eviction and said it was the result of “extensive dialogue” between the U.K. and Ecuador.

The Australian national has maintained that if forced to leave the embassy he would eventually be extradited to the U.S. to face charges.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, criticized Assange’s arrest.

“The hand of ‘democracy’ squeezes the throat of freedom,” she said in a Facebook post.

WikiLeaks said in a tweet that Assange’s political asylum had been “illegally terminated in violation of international law.”

The group has repeatedly claimed that the Justice Department is building a criminal case centered on the leaking of Democratic emails hacked by the Russians in the 2016 election.

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a congressional hearing in February that former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone was in contact with Assange before WikiLeaks released leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee.

Assange, 47, has always maintained that the source of the leaks was not Russia, contrary to the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Special counsel Robert Mueller recently concluded his probe into Russian electoral interference and the Trump campaign.

Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and made news four years later with the publication of leaked information provided by Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst and self-described whistleblower.

These included a video of a U.S. military helicopter fatally shooting people in Iraq, and thousands of classified military logs revealing sensitive information about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thought to be the biggest leaks in U.S. military history.

Manning last month refused to testify before a federal grand jury looking into the release of documents to WikiLeaks.

In November 2010, the Swedish government issued an international arrest warrant for Assange in connection with allegations of sexual assault and rape from two women. Assange, who has denied the allegations, surrendered to British police the following month and was released on bail — whereupon he fled, breaking the terms of his bond agreement.

Assange’s lawyers have often warned that he would be handed over to U.S. prosecutors because of WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents. Rafael Correa, then the president of Ecuador, granted him asylum in 2012.

Sweden dropped its investigation into Assange in 2017. However, under Swedish law it is possible he could still be arrested should he return to the country before the statute of limitation expires in August 2020.

Elisabeth Massi Fritz, lawyer for one of Assange’s accusers, said on Thursday that she would “do everything we possibly can” to get police to reopen the investigation “so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape.”

Assange has remained in the embassy because London’s Metropolitan Police said he would be arrested for violating his bail as soon as he stepped outside. The local force has been running an expensive operation to post officers outside the building in case that happens.

Assange became an Ecuadorian citizen last year, even though his relations with his hosts had soured years ago.

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