WikiLeaks co-founder Assange faces US hacking charge

Seven years after fleeing the U.S., Julian Assange was arrested Thursday at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, partly due to a U.S. extradition request. Mr. Assange has faced scrutiny for years over WikiLeaks' role in publishing U.S. government secrets and in the 2016 presidential election.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Julian Assange arrives at the Supreme Court in London on Feb. 1, 2012. British police arrested the WikiLeaks founder on Thursday at the Ecuadorean embassy in London for breaching bail and on behalf of a U.S. extradition request.

British police arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday, after the South American nation decided to revoke the political asylum that had given him sanctuary for almost seven years.

London police said they were invited into the embassy by Ecuador's ambassador. Mr. Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 after he was released on bail while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped.

Mr. Assange has been under U.S. Justice Department scrutiny for years for Wikileaks' role in publishing thousands of government secrets. He was also reportedly an important figure in the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe as investigators examined how WikiLeaks obtained emails stolen from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and Democratic groups.

Ecuador's president, Lenin Moreno, said his government made a "sovereign decision" to revoke Mr. Assange's political asylum due to "repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life."

"Today I announce that that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable," President Moreno said in a video released on Twitter.

Video posted online by Ruptly, a news service of Russia Today, showed several men in suits carrying Mr. Assange out of the embassy building and loading him into a police van while uniformed British police officers formed a passageway. Mr. Assange sported a full beard and slicked-back grey hair.

His lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said in tweet that he had been arrested for breaching his bail conditions and "in relation to a U.S. extradition request."

The Department of Justice announced early Thursday that Assange was arrested in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion of a classified U.S. government computer, which carries a five-year maximum sentence.

The indictment alleges that Assange conspired to “knowingly access a computer, without authorization and exceeding authorized access,” to obtain classified information that “could be used to the injury of the United States.”

Mr. Assange had not come out of the embassy for almost seven years because he feared arrest and extradition to the United States for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks. Although Sweden has dropped the sexual assault case that first led to Mr. Assange's arrest in Britain, U.K. authorities said he would be rearrested if he ever left the embassy because he skipped bail in the original case.

London's Metropolitan Police Service said Mr. Assange was taken into "custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as is possible."

His arrest came a day after WikiLeaks accused the Ecuador's government of an "extensive spying operation" against Mr. Assange.

WikiLeaks claims that meetings with lawyers and a doctor inside the embassy over the past year were secretly filmed.

WikiLeaks said in a tweeted statement that Ecuador illegally terminated Mr. Assange's political asylum "in violation of international law."

"Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to de-humanise, de-legitimize and imprison him," WikiLeaks said in a tweet over a photo of Mr. Assange's smiling face.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked Ecuador's president for breaking the impasse, saying on Twitter that Mr. Assange "is no hero and no one is above the law."

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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