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WikiLeaks fights cyber-attack to publish email trove from Turkey's ruling AKP party

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish flags as they gather in Istanbul's central Taksim Square on July 19, 2016, in Istanbul, Turkey.
Kursat Bayhan | Getty Images
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish flags as they gather in Istanbul's central Taksim Square on July 19, 2016, in Istanbul, Turkey.

WikiLeaks said it had won a "24h cyberwar" to successfully publish a database containing 294,548 emails, along with thousands of attachments, from 762 mailboxes it claims belong to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party.

The emails came from AKP's primary domain, "akparti.org.tr", with the most recent emails sent July 6, 2016 and dating as far back as 2010, the leaks website said.

"It should be noted that emails associated with the domain are mostly used for dealing with the world, as opposed to the most sensitive internal matters" WikiLeaks said on its website. It added that the material was obtained a week before Turkey's attempted coup and that its scheduled publication was brought forward in response to "the government's post-coup purges."

The coup in Turkey began late on Friday when rebel military forces seized control of key positions but encountered stiff resistance by elements loyal to Erdogan's elected government. Erdogan himself was travelling at the time of the coup and hundreds were reported to have been killed as members of the public battled with rebel soldiers.

Since then, thousands of people have come under state scrutiny. Reuters reported late on Monday that as many 50,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers had been suspended or detained since the coup attempt. Meanwhile, crowds of pro-government supporters have called for reinstatement of the death penalty to deal with the "plotters" and Erdogan said those attempting a coup would have to "pay the price."

WikiLeaks said it had verified the material on the database as legitimate.

"We have verified the material and the source, who is not connected, in any way, to the elements behind the attempted coup, or to a rival political party or state," WikiLeaks said.

On Sunday, WikiLeaks announced on Twitter that it would release more than 100,000 documents on Turkey's political power structure.

It said the government would likely censor its citizens to prevent them from reading the documents, which WikiLeaks claimed were "on politics leading up to the coup." It added that the release of the documents would both help and harm the AKP, and urged Turkish citizens to bypass censorship by turning to the encrypted TorBrowser and peer-to-peer file-sharing program uTorrent in order to view the database.

The organization then revealed on Twitter on Monday that its infrastructure was "under sustained attack," and that although it wasn't sure of the origin of the attack, the Turkish state could be behind it.

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks tweeted that it had "won our 24h cyberwar," and released the documents. It then said it was still coming under cyber-attacks that it was "winning, on and off."

WikiLeaks then said on Wednesday morning Asia time that access to its site, and the database, was blocked in Turkey. CNBC was unable to independently verify this claim.

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