The WikiLeaks founder sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, after he was released on bail while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen in a police van after was arrested by British police outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Britain April 11, 2019.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen in a police van after was arrested by British police outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Britain April 11, 2019. (Reuters)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by British police on Thursday after they were invited into the Ecuadorean embassy where he has been holed up since 2012.

Scotland Yard said in a statement that Assange was "arrested on behalf of the United States authorities, at 10:53hrs after his arrival at a central London police station. This is an extradition warrant under Section 73 of the Extradition Act."

In Washington, the US Department of Justice accused Assange with conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break into a classified government computer at the Pentagon. The charge was announced after Assange was taken into custody.

His lawyer said Assange would fight extradition to the US.

The WikiLeaks founder sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, after he was released on bail while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations. 

The accusations have since been dropped but he was still wanted for jumping bail.

He appeared in Westminster Magistrates' Court on Thursday, where District Judge Michael Snow wasted no time in finding him guilty of breaching his bail conditions, flatly rejecting his assertion that he had not had a fair hearing and had a reasonable excuse for not appearing.

"Mr Assange's behaviour is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests," Snow said. "He hasn't come close to establishing 'reasonable excuse.'"

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said his country acted within its sovereign rights when it decided to withdraw Assange's diplomatic asylum.

Moreno said, "Ecuador has decided with sovereign rights to withdraw the diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange for repeatedly violating international conventions and the protocol of cohabitation."

Foreign Minister Jose Valencia described to lawmakers on Thursday what began as erratic behaviour by Assange — roller skating and playing soccer in embassy hallways and listening to loud music at all hours — evolved in recent months into aggressive behaviour toward embassy staff.

TRT World's Sarah Morice reports from London.

Trump claims cluelessness about WikiLeaks

President Donald Trump declared on Thursday that "I know nothing about WikiLeaks" - a stark contrast to how candidate Trump showered praise on Assange's hacking organisation night after night during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.

"It's not my thing. I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I've been seeing what's happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who's doing an excellent job.

So, he'll be making a determination. I know nothing really about him," Trump said at the White House on Thursday. 

"It's not my deal in life."

All told, Trump extolled WikiLeaks more than 100 times, and a poster of Assange hung backstage at the Republican's debate war room. 

At no point from a rally stage did Trump express any misgivings about how WikiLeaks obtained the emails from the Clinton campaign or about the accusations of stealing sensitive US government information, which led to the charges against Assange on Thursday.

Assange took refuge in Ecuador's London embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. That probe was later dropped, but Assange fears he could be extradited to face charges in the United States, where federal prosecutors are investigating WikiLeaks.

Assange was taken into custody at a central London police station and he will be brought before Westminster Magistrates ' Court, police said.

Assange's relationship with his hosts collapsed after Ecuador accused him of leaking information about Moreno's personal life.

Moreno had previously said Assange had violated the terms of his asylum.

Ecuador's president said that he had asked Britain to guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.

"The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules," Moreno said.

Later Thursday, a senior Ecuadorian official said a Swedish software developer living in Quito had been arrested at the airport as authorities attempt to dismantle a blackmail ring that in recent days had threatened to retaliate against Moreno.

The official identified the person as Ola Bini. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity and didn't provide any additional details about Bini.

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood reports from London.

WikiLeaks said Ecuador had illegally terminated Assange's political asylum in violation of international law.

To his supporters, Assange is a hero for exposing the abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech. To his critics, he is a dangerous maverick whose organisation has undermined the electoral process and the security of the United States.

Meanwhile, the lawyer of a Swedish woman who accused Assange of rape in 2010 said she and her client would ask Swedish prosecutors to reopen the investigation which was dropped in 2017.

"We will do everything we can to get the prosecutors to reopen the Swedish investigation so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and be prosecuted for rape. As long as the statute of limitations has not expired my client has hope for restitution," lawyer Elisabeth Massi Fritz told media.

Key dates in Assange's life:

  • 1971: He is born July 3 in Townsville, Australia. During his nomadic childhood and youth, he attends 37 schools.
  • 1990s: Becomes a computer programmer and software developer, with a talent for hacking.
  • 2003-2006: Studies physics and mathematics at the University of Melbourne.
  • 2006: Sets up to enable whistleblowers to post sensitive documents on the internet without being traced.
  • 2010: Swedish prosecutors issue an arrest warrant for Assange over allegations of rape and sexual assault involving two women. Assange denies the accusations.
  • 2010: WikiLeaks publishes classified military documents on American diplomacy and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, making Assange a pariah in the United States.
  • 2012: To escape extradition from Britain, he requests political asylum from Ecuador and takes refuge at its embassy in London. Asylum is granted weeks later.
  • 2016: WikiLeaks publishes 20,000 hacked emails from the US election campaign team of Democrat Hillary Clinton, vying for the US presidency with Donald Trump.
  • 2017: Swedish prosecutors drop their rape probe. Assange becomes an Ecuadorian citizen.
  • 2018: WikiLeaks' attorney describes his living conditions in the embassy as "inhuman."
  • 2019: Moreno says Assange has violated the conditions of his asylum. British police arrest Assange, saying his asylum had been withdrawn.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies