GENEVA (AP) — WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange turned increasingly to Switzerland on Sunday, dodging a barrage of threats online and in the real world to keep access to a trove of U.S. State Department cables under a Swiss Web address.
The elusive founder of the website WikiLeaks said he faced "hundreds of death threats." The site hinged on the Swiss Pirate Party's wikileaks.ch Web address, though the main server in France went offline, leaving the site reachable through a Swedish server.
That site showed Assange had begun seeking donations to an account under his name through the Swiss postal system in Berne, the Swiss capital, while also using a Swiss-Icelandic credit card processing center and other accounts in Iceland and Germany. He lost a major source of revenue when the online payment service provider PayPal cut off the WikiLeaks account over the weekend.
On the run, Assange has been widely praised and criticized. Supporters view him as a savior of the media and free speech; critics vilify him for brazenly unleashing diplomatic secrets.
U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Assange "a high-tech terrorist" Sunday for releasing classified material from the government. McConnell told NBC's "Meet the Press" he hopes Assange will be prosecuted for the "enormous damage" the disclosures have done to the country and to its relationship with its allies.
PayPal, a subsidiary of U.S.-based online marketplace operator EBay Inc., said the WikiLeaks website, which specializes in disclosing confidential documents, was engaged in illegal activity.
A spokesman for the financial services arm of Swiss Post told the respected Swiss weekly NZZ am Sonntag that it was reviewing its "relationship" with Assange, whose stated reason for opening the account was to have a residence in Geneva.
Swiss Post spokesman Marc Andrey said Assange would have to prove he obtained Swiss residency, lives near the Swiss border, or owns property or does business in Switzerland to keep the Postfinance bank account that he opened last month.
The U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Donald Beyer, also told the newspaper that Switzerland "should very carefully consider whether to provide shelter to someone who is on the run from the law." The SonntagsZeitung quoted Beyer as saying he told the Swiss government that WikiLeaks would likely post more than 250 cables from the American Embassy in Berne.
French web hosting company OVH, which owns the server, didn't immediately respond to calls Sunday. France's Industry Minister Eric Besson had warned Friday that it was unacceptable to host a site that "violates the secret of diplomatic relations."
The company said earlier that it had been hosting WikiLeaks since early Thursday, after a client asked for a "dedicated server with ... protection against attacks."
The president of the Swiss Pirate Party, which controls the wikileaks.ch Web address, said he was in the process of pointing that domain name to a different server, apparently based in Sweden. The site also was still reachable through the numerical address of its Swedish server.
And the party said it noticed an increasing number of supporters creating "mirrors" of the WikiLeaks site on their own servers, meaning that copies of the site would remain up and running even if WikiLeaks were somehow to lose its own site.
"Even if you take down the server in Sweden, it's too late," Swiss Pirate Party Vice President Pascal Gloor told The Associated Press on Sunday.
"There are hundreds of mirrors of WikiLeaks now," he said. "It's a test for Internet censorship. Can governments take something off the net? I think not. There are copies of the website everywhere."
In a high-tech media building in Bienne, Switzerland, the party convened an impromptu news conference late Friday to say it had no special knowledge of Assange's whereabouts or ability to contact him, but had spoken with him weeks ago to help seek asylum in Switzerland. That was during Assange's visit to Geneva last month when he spoke to reporters at the United Nations.
Starting Friday, the Swiss Web address wikileaks.ch became the site's main access point after EveryDNS, a company based in Manchester, New Hampshire, stopped accepting traffic to the site's principal address — wikileaks.org — saying cyber attacks threatened the rest of its network.
Amazon stopped hosting WikiLeaks' Web site and governments and hackers were continuing to go after the organization.
News media reports were filled with stories about the hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, which is coming under intense legal pressure in several countries, including the United States.
In an online chat with El Pais in Spain, Assange said the hunt for him was tough. He remains free while his website spews daily embarrassment and potential diplomatic damage to the U.S.
"We have hundreds of specific death threats from U.S. military militants. That is not unusual, and we have become practiced from past experiences at ignoring such threats from Islamic extremists, African kleptocrats and so on," he said.
"Recently the situation has changed with these threats now extending out to our lawyers and my children," he added. "However, it is the specific calls from the elites of U.S. society for our assassination, kidnapping and execution that is more concerning."
Assange, who is now in Britain, according to his British lawyer, is wanted in Sweden to face allegations of sexual offenses against two women, charges he denies, but the United States has not lodged any charges against him. Nor has Britain.
In the Swedish case, Assange is the target of a European extradition process which normally takes months to produce an arrest.
Frank Jordans contributed from Geneva.
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