STOCKHOLM (AP) - The elusive Australian behind the biggest leak of U.S. war documents in history is wanted by Sweden in a drawn-out rape probe, and could soon face an international arrest warrant curtailing his ability to jump from one country to another.
A Swedish court on Thursday approved a motion to bring Julian Assange, the 39-year-old founder of WikiLeaks, into custody for questioning. The decision paves the way for prosecutors to seek his arrest abroad through Interpol.
Assange, whose whereabouts are unknown, is suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. He has denied the allegations, which stem from his encounters with two women during a visit to Sweden in August.
The irregular evolution of the case, in which prosecutors of different ranks have overruled each other, has sparked questions about Sweden’s legal system and conspiracy theories about intelligence agencies seeking to silence and discredit Assange and WikiLeaks.
The site has published almost 500,000 secret U.S. documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Governments and some of Assange’s own colleagues have denounced him for releasing Afghan documents that contained the names of Afghan intelligence sources for NATO forces, saying that could place the sources’ lives at risk.
He later told Sweden’s TV4 he wasn’t pointing fingers at anyone.
“That doesn’t mean that intelligence agencies are behind this, nor does it mean they are not behind it, nor does it mean once this has happened, for other reasons, that they are not capitalizing on it,” he said.
The team behind WikiLeaks is small, reportedly just a half-dozen people and casual volunteers who offer their services as needed. Assange has no permanent address and travels frequently _ jumping from one friend’s place to the next, occasionally disappearing from public view for months at a time, only to reappear in the full glare of the cameras at packed news conferences to discuss his site’s latest disclosure.
Assange had considered setting up a base for WikiLeaks in Sweden, where some of its servers are located, but Swedish immigration authorities denied him a residence permit. Earlier this month, he said he was considering immigrating to Switzerland instead.
Swedish prosecutors questioned Assange on Aug. 30. Director of Public Prosecution Marianne Ny said she sought Thursday’s court order to detain him because attempts to question him again had failed.
“So far, we have not been able to meet with him to accomplish the interrogation,” she said.
His lawyer lashed out at the Swedish investigators, saying Assange had offered to be questioned in Sweden and in Britain, in person or by phone, videoconferencing, e-mail, or to make a sworn statement.