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WikiLeaks Co-Founder Julian Assange Arrested In London


The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has been arrested this morning in London. The Metropolitan Police say they took him into custody after Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has lived since 2012. Assange took refuge in that embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden and says he believes the Swedish authorities had intended to extradite him to the United States. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is with us now from London, where she's following this.

Good morning, Ofeibea.


MARTIN: Why is this happening now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Because it looks as if the Ecuadorian Embassy feels that Julian Assange has outstayed his welcome. They've got exasperated. And they have invited in the British police to escort him out. Now, let me just show - tell you about the images we saw of a heavily bearded Assange removed physically - manu militari - by the police and taken into a van. So he certainly did not go willingly, but it looks as if the Ecuadorians have said, enough is enough. When Assange went in in 2012, that was a government that favored him and sympathized with him. Since then, there's been a change of leadership. It looks as if they said, no. He's got to go now.

MARTIN: The Justice Department here in the U.S. has filed criminal charges against Assange related to that dump of documents - the publication of all these classified documents. Can you remind us what was leaked?

QUIST-ARCTON: Of course, the U.S. is furious still about that. Now, WikiLeaks published and - classified military documents linked to the death of huge numbers of civilians at the hands of United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, that was one of the reasons why Julian Assange said he did not want to be extradited to the U.S. And, of course, the U.S. also has the death penalty.

So that is why the U.S. is after him. But there are several strands to this story because, of course, he was also wanted in Sweden for alleged rape and molestation. And the Swiss also wanted him. So Julian Assange has been a wanted man. And now it looks as if the British, at least, can start their process because he absconded bail, in effect, in 2012 when he went into the Ecuadorian Embassy. And now they can start the process that may lead to Assange - well, we don't know whether he'll end up in the U.S. or not.

MARTIN: I mean - so it sounds like lots of people - lots of countries have a claim on him. But just worth remembering the scope of the U.S. connection here because it wasn't just those documents that revealed sources and the names of civilians and journalists in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - which, by the way, ended in the conviction of Chelsea Manning for leaking those files. But also, WikiLeaks was clearly implicated in the 2016 election - presidential election here in the U.S. for leaking documents that damaged Hillary Clinton.

QUIST-ARCTON: So this is why Julian Assange is wanted by so many people in the U.S. and beyond. That's why he has stayed on despite the Ecuadorian Embassy people indicating, already, that they weren't happy with his presence. Even they feel that WikiLeaks has leaked information about the current president. So now that Julian Assange is in British hands, we'll have to see who will be allowed to get hold of him because, of course, the Swedish case - although the molestation and rape charges have been dropped, they may be able to be revived. Julian Assange must be sweating.

MARTIN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in London this morning on the fact that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks has been arrested.

Ofeibea, thank you so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure - thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.