STOCKHOLM – Swedish prosecutors said they will seek an international arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after a court approved their request Thursday to detain him for questioning in a rape case.
The Australian is suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion in an investigation that stems from his encounters with two women during a visit to Sweden in August.
He has denied the allegations and insisted his sexual relations with the women were consensual.
His lawyers lashed out at Swedish investigators Thursday, saying Assange had offered to be questioned before he left Sweden and later in Britain, in person or by phone, videoconferencing, e-mail, or to make a sworn statement.
"All of these offers have been flatly refused by a prosecutor who is abusing her powers by insisting that he return to Sweden," said Mark Stephens, Assange's British lawyer. He added that the allegations were "false and without basis."
Assange, 39, a veteran computer hacker, founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and it has published almost 500,000 secret U.S. documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Governments and some of Assange's own colleagues have denounced him for releasing Afghan documents that contained the names of Afghan intelligence sources for NATO forces, saying that could place the sources' lives at risk.
But Assange has urged U.S. authorities to investigate possible human rights abuses by American troops during the two conflicts. He also has complained that he and his group are being targeted and persecuted by intelligence agencies from the United States and elsewhere who are angry over the leaks of the secret military documents.
Director of Public Prosecution Marianne Ny said she sought Thursday's court order to detain Assange because "So far, we have not been able to meet with him to accomplish the interrogation."
After the Stockholm District Court approved her request, she told The Associated Press she would seek Assange's arrest through Interpol. His whereabouts were not immediately known.
Assange had considered setting up a base for WikiLeaks in Sweden, where some of its servers are located, but Swedish immigration authorities denied him a residence permit. Earlier this month, he said he was considering immigrating to Switzerland instead.
Court documents filed by the prosecutor show Assange is suspected of raping and sexually molesting a woman in the town of Enkoping, central Sweden. He's suspected of sexual molestation and unlawful coercion of the second woman, in Stockholm.
A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that both women had met Assange in connection with a seminar he gave in Stockholm on Aug. 14. The report shows the women filed their complaints together six days later.
Mark Stephens, Assange's lawyer in Britain, said both women have declared that they had "consensual sexual relations" with Assange. "Only after the women became aware of each other's relationships with Mr. Assange did they make their allegations against him," Stephens said in a statement.
Investigators initially disagreed on how to deal with the case.
A Stockholm prosecutor opened a rape investigation on Aug. 20, that was dropped by the city's chief prosecutor a day later. Ny reopened it the following week.
Bjorn Hurtig, a Swedish lawyer who represented Assange at the detention hearing in Stockholm, said he thought the evidence presented by prosecutors was "very meager."
"It's not enough to get him convicted for crime," he said.
Hurtig said he would consider appealing the court order, but that it would require a power of attorney from Assange, whose whereabouts he did not disclose.