WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange arrested in London; faces possible extradition to the US
- WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange is arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy, nearly seven years after he first sought refuge there.
- WikiLeaks accuses Ecuador of "illegally" terminating Assange's "political asylum in violation of international law."
- Assange sought asylum in the embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he had faced allegations of sexual assault.
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was arrested in London on Thursday morning, nearly seven years after he sought refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy, and faces a possible extradition to the United States.
The U.K. Metropolitan Police confirmed that Assange was arrested by officers at the embassy after the Ecuadorian government withdrew asylum for the Australian national.
Assange was taken to a central London police station and will be presented before Westminster Magistrates' Court "as soon as is possible," police said.
The police said he was arrested for failing to surrender to a court on a warrant issued by the Westminster Magistrates' Court in June 2012. The police later further updated that the arrest is in relation to an extradition warrant on behalf of the United States authorities.
Assange's attorney confirmed on Thursday that the 47-year-old WikiLeaks founder was arrested on a U.S. extradition request as well as for breaching U.K. bail conditions, The Associated Press reported.
A source directly familiar with the situation told NBC News Thursday that the U.S. is making plans to seek extradition of Julian Assange from the U.K. in connection with sealed federal charges filed in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Following the arrest, the U.S. charged Assange with conspiracy to commit computer hacking.
Assange sought asylum at the embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case. Two years earlier, the Swedish government issued a warrant for Assange in connection with allegations of sexual assault and rape from two women.
He consistently denied the allegations and surrendered to British police the following month and was released on bail. However, he then evaded police and fled, leading to a second warrant that was the basis for his arrest Thursday.
In 2017, Swedish prosecutors dropped their preliminary investigation into the allegations, ending a seven-year legal battle there.
Assange had refused to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy and claimed he would be extradited to the U.S. for questioning over WikiLeaks' activities. The activist organization became renowned for publishing secret information and news leaks that on some occasions caused embarrassment for governments and public officials.
WikiLeaks in its response to the arrest accused Ecuador of "illegally" terminating Assange's "political asylum in violation of international law."
"Julian Assange did not 'walk out of the embassy'. The Ecuadorian ambassador invited British police into the embassy and he was immediately arrested," WikiLeaks said in another tweet.
Assange's relationship with Ecuador started to deteriorate earlier this month after the country accused him of leaking personal information about President Lenin Moreno.
Moreno accused WikiLeaks of intercepting phone calls and private conversations as well as "photos of my bedroom, what I eat, and how my wife and daughters and friends dance," AP reported earlier this month.
Moreno provided no evidence, but the statement reflected ongoing tension between Assange and his hosts at the embassy.
After the arrest, Moreno lashed out at Assange.
"Today, I announce 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," he said in a video statement posted on Twitter.
The Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow hopes that Assange's rights will not be violated, according to Reuters.