22 Aug 2010:
It is a case bound to excite the world's conspiracy theorists. First the secretive computer hacker behind the leak of thousands of intelligence documents about the Afghan war was sought yesterday by police who accused him of rape.
Then just hours later the charge against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was mysteriously dropped – and his supporters claimed he had been the victim of an attempt to smear his name.
A WikiLeaks activist said: 'We were warned to expect dirty tricks. Now we have the first one.'
U-turn: Swedish authorities have now withdrawn an arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, pictured in Stockholm last week, on suspicion of rape and molestation.
Authorities in Sweden had issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr Assange, 39, after two women accused him of sexual assault.
Police said he was wanted for raping a woman in Stockholm last weekend and then sexually assaulting another woman in the town of Enkoping, 40 miles from the capital, three days later.
After they said he was under arrest in his absence, Assange responded on a Twitter account claiming the charges were baseless.
Then last night police admitted they were dropping the charge of rape and withdrawing the warrant for his arrest.
But they said they were still deciding whether to question him about the sex assault allegation.
Mr Assange enraged the US last month by publishing 90,000 secret military documents about the Afghan war, including evidence that coalition forces killed hundreds of civilians in incidents that have never been reported.
He further infuriated the White House by handing the files to three newspapers. The US government has accused WikiLeaks of putting the lives of coalition soldiers and Afghan informers at risk.
But Mr Assange said he intended to release 15,000 more documents in coming weeks.
The two women are said to know each other and to have met Mr Assange at a rally organised by Sweden's Pirate Party, which campaigns for freedom of information and has agreed to host some of WikiLeaks's new computer servers.
Despite insisting early yesterday that Mr Assange was wanted, Sweden's chief prosecutor Eva Finne said later: 'I have come to the decision that he is not suspected of rape. Considering that, Assange is no longer arrested in his absence.'
Father-of-two Mr Assange said of the charges on his Twitter page: 'Their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing.'
He is in Sweden to seek international protection for his website under the country's liberal laws upholding whistleblowers' rights.
Pirate Party leader Rick Falkvinge said yesterday: 'I had dinner with Julian on Sunday in a restaurant in Stockholm's Old Town. There was nothing out of the ordinary. He was behaving quite normally.'
Outlining the philosophy behind WikiLeaks, Mr Assange wrote: 'To radically shift regime behaviour, we must think clearly and boldly.
'We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not.'
The Pentagon has denounced Mr Assange's threat to release more documents as 'the height of irresponsibility'.
Officials demanded that WikiLeaks remove all classified material from its site and return it to the US government.