Police reportedly surrounded the Ecuadorian embassy in London amid rumors that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is facing imminent arrest.
The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in the embassy since 2012, seeking asylum there to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape charges, but reports on Friday indicated that police could be prepared to arrest him. The official WikiLeaks Twitter account seemed to fuel much of the rumors with a tweet on Friday that there was an increased police presence outside the embassy.
“A build up of plain clothes ear-piece wearing operatives around the Ecuador embassy in London in the last two days has been sighted by Julian Assange’s lawyers,” the tweet noted. “There are normally 2-4 plainclothes British operatives present. The reason for the increase is not publicly known.”
It was not clear if London police would have authority to arrest Julian Assange if the WikiLeaks founder remained inside the embassy, where he had the protection of Ecuador’s government. There had long been reports that Assange would face arrest if he ever left the embassy, which he has not done in the nearly seven years he has been there.
The report about increased police presence outside the embassy comes a day after NBC News reporter Ken Dilanian reported on Twitter that the U.S. Department of Justice operated a flight from Washington, D.C., to London. The plane actually left from Manassas, Virginia, which Dilanian reported is where FBI teams leave to detain suspects overseas.
There were conflicting reports about whether police in London were after Julian Assange. The Guardian reporter Kevin Rawlinson wrote on Twitter that Metro police were actually in the area for reports of a burglary.
Some speculation around this evening about a police operation involving Wikileaks' Julian Assange.— Kevin Rawlinson (@KevinJRawlinson) March 22, 2019
London's Met police say they were in the area of the Ecuadorian embassy earlier this evening but it was in relation to "reports of an attempted burglary and a suspect at large".
But that has done little to slow the rumors that Julian Assange may be a target for arrest. There have been building reports in recent months that the U.S. Justice Department was investigating Assange, and late last year, an inadvertent court filing appeared to show that Assange was already facing charges, the New York Times reported.
“Top Justice Department officials told prosecutors over the summer that they could start drafting a complaint against Mr. Assange, current and former law enforcement officials said,” the report noted. “The charges came to light late Thursday through an unrelated court filing in which prosecutors inadvertently mentioned them.”
As far back as last year, the Daily Mail reported that Julian Assange was fearful that he would be arrested and extradited to the United States to face charges for leaking classified information.