LONDON (AP) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange surrendered to London policeTuesday to face a Swedish arrest warrant, the latest blow to anorganization that faces legal, financial and technologicalchallenges after releasing hundreds of secret U.S. diplomaticcables.
Assange was at Westminster Magistrate's Court on Tuesdayafternoon, waiting to attend a hearing. His Swedish lawyer told TheAssociated Press his client would challenge any extradition fromBritain to Sweden.
If that is the case, Assange will likely be remanded into U.K.custody or released on bail until another judge rules on whether toextradite him, a spokeswoman for the extradition department said oncustomary condition of anonymity.
Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, has been accused by two womenin Sweden. He faces rape and sexual molestation allegations in onecase and sexual molestation and unlawful coercion in the other.Assange denies the allegations.
His British attorney Mark Stephens says the allegations stemfrom a "dispute over consensual but unprotected sex" lastsummer.
Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny has rejected claims by Stephensand Assange that the prosecution has political overtones. Sheplanned to comment on the arrest later Tuesday.
Assange's Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig said his client wouldcontest any extradition.
"He will absolutely do that," he told the AP in a telephoneinterview.
Hurtig said it was difficult to say how long the extraditionprocess in Britain would take - anywhere from a week to two months.He said if Assange was extradited to Sweden, he wouldn't be kept indetention after he's been questioned, "because it's been for thesake of the questioning that he's been detained."
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting with AfghanPresident Hamid Karzai and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, was pleasedby the arrest.
"That sounds like good news to me," he said.
Beginning in July, WikiLeaks angered the U.S. government byreleasing tens of thousands of secret U.S. military documents onthe wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That was followed last week bythe ongoing release of what WikiLeaks says will eventually be aquarter-million cables from U.S. diplomatic posts around the world.The group provided those documents to five major newspapers, whichhave been working with WikiLeaks to edit the cables forpublication.
In the past week, WikiLeaks has seen its bank accounts canceledand its web sites attacked. The U.S. government has launched acriminal investigation, saying the group has jeopardized U.S.national security and diplomatic efforts around the world.
WikiLeaks has also seen an online army of supporters come to itsaid, sending donations, fighting off computer attacks and settingup over 500 mirror sites around the world to make sure that thesecret documents are published regardless of what happens toAssange.
A spokesman for WikiLeaks called Assange's arrest an attack onmedia freedom and said it won't prevent the organization fromreleasing more secret documents.
"This will not change our operation," Kristinn Hrafnsson toldThe Associated Press.
But Hrafnsson also said the group had no plans at the moment torelease the key to a heavily encrypted version of some of its mostimportant documents - an "insurance" file that has been distributedto supporters in case of an emergency. Hrafnsson said that willonly come into play if "grave matters" involving WikiLeaks staffoccur - but did not elaborate on what those would be.
The campaign against WikiLeaks began with an effort to jam thewebsite as the cables were being released. U.S. Internet companiesAmazon.com, Inc., EveryDNS and PayPal, Inc. then severed theirlinks with WikiLeaks in quick succession, forcing it to jump to newservers and adopt a new primary Web address - wikileaks.ch - inSwitzerland.
Swiss authorities closed Assange's new Swiss bank accountMonday, and MasterCard has pulled the plug on payments toWikiLeaks, according to technology news website CNET.
The attacks appeared to have been at least partially successfulin stanching the flow of secrets: WikiLeaks has not published anynew cables in more than 24 hours, although stories about them havecontinued to appear in The New York Times and Britain's TheGuardian, two of the newspapers given advance access to thecables.
WikiLeaks' Twitter feed, generally packed with updates, appealsand pithy comments, has been silent since Monday night, when thegroup warned that Assange's arrest was imminent.
Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm and Greg Katz and CassandraVinograd in London contributed to this story.