- Associated Press - Friday, January 28, 2011

LONDON (AP) - British police arrested five people Thursday on suspicion of involvement in recent cyber attacks conducted by an Internet hacking group that has backed WikiLeaks, and in a coordinated action U.S. authorities issued 40 search warrants in America.

The five males in Britain, aged from 15 to 26, were arrested during an early morning raid at their homes across the U.K. for their alleged involvement in the attacks.

Anonymous, a loose-knit collection of activists, has claimed responsibility for attacking the websites of companies such as Visa, Mastercard and Paypal, all of whom severed their links with WikiLeaks after it began publishing its massive trove of secret U.S. diplomatic memos.

Anonymous accused the companies of trying to stifle WikiLeaks and rallied an army of online supporters to flood their servers with traffic, periodically blocking access to their sites for hours at a time.

WikiLeaks said it did not sanction the attacks, which Anonymous said were carried out of sympathy with the secret-spilling site’s support for government transparency.

Police said Thursday’s raids were part of a police probe into Anonymous carried out together with law enforcement agencies across Europe and the United States.

In Washington, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it had issued more than 40 search warrants throughout America as part of the ongoing investigation “into recent coordinated cyber attacks against major companies and organizations.”

Regional U.S. FBI spokesman confirmed that one warrant was served in the Las Vegas area, and five were served in central and southern California. No arrests were made, they said.

The U.S. announcement noted the five British arrests and added that “the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police Service executed additional search warrants.”

The FBI said it was working on the case with international police forces, and added that German, Dutch and French authorities had launched their own investigations.

Other arrests have previously taken place elsewhere: In the Netherlands, a 16-year-old suspected of being involved in the attacks was arrested in December, while a French official close to the investigation told The Associated Press that a young teenager they suspect of masterminding the attacks was arrested the same month.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of he was not authorized to talk publicly about the arrest, said that police had since released the 15-year-old but have confiscated his computer.

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