LONDON (AFP) – Hackers stepped up their cyber war on Thursday in support of WikiLeaks as the embattled whistleblowers released memos showing the US views China as a "pernicious" competitor in Africa, lacking in morals.
After a group which has dubbed itself "Anonymous" vowed to intensify its "war of data" against Mastercard, Visa and other groups which have cut funding to the website, the Swedish government then came under attack.
In an online chat with AFP, organisers of the group said thousands of volunteers were taking part in their defense of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, whom they described as a "free-speech martyr."
"We started off with a small amount of users (below 50)," they said. "Now, we are at around 4,000."
"We recruit through the Internet, that means, everywhere: imageboards, forums, Facebook, Twitter... you name it, we're using it," they said.
Anonymous members launched their first distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack on Saturday, taking down PayPal's blog, ThePayPalBlog.com, for at least eight hours.
Since then, they have taken down the websites of Visa, Mastercard and the Swiss Post Office bank for severing ties to WikiLeaks and the website of the Swedish prosecutor's office for pursuing Assange on allegations of sex crimes.
The latest apparent victims was the Swedish government, according to a report in the country's top-selling daily.
Aftonbladet said the official government website, http://www.regeringen.se/, was offline for a few hours overnight to Thursday, publishing a screen shot which showed the server could not be reached. The site was working normally again later in the day.
The paper also reported that WikiLeaks supporters had created a website bearing Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask's name which then redirected users to WikiLeaks own site.
Members of Anonymous also took aim on Wednesday at the websites of US conservative standard bearer Sarah Palin and US Senator Joe Lieberman, who called for US companies to withdraw technical support for WikiLeaks.
Palin for her part described Assange as "an anti-American operative with blood on his hands."
Assange is currently behind bars in a south London prison. He handed himself into police on Tuesday after Sweden issued a European arrest warrant and he was then refused bail.
According to his lawyers, who plan to visit him later Thursday, the 39-year-old Australian remains in "very good spirits" and confident of winning his fight against extradition.
They will discuss a possible bid to win his release on bail ahead of a December 14 hearing on extradition to Sweden.
"My colleague Mark Stephens spoke to him yesterday and he was in very good spirits. He (Assange) was confident that we will be able to clear his name and that we will be able to beat this," lawyer Jennifer Robinson told AFP.
His supporters have vowed the arrest will not halt the flow of secrets, with the latest revelations causing more embarrassment for Washington.
The most explosive came in an assessment by the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson, who illustrated the tensions caused by China's increasing involvement in resource-rich Africa.
"China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons," Carson said in a February meeting with oil executives in Nigeria.
"China is in Africa for China primarily," he said, according to a confidential cable written by the US consul-general in Lagos.
Carson said another reason was to "secure votes in the United Nations from African countries" to forward China's own aims, and also to depress diplomatic support for its rival Taiwan.
Beijing had pumped a total of 9.3 billion dollars into Africa by the end of 2009, according to the China-Africa Trade and Economic Relationship Annual Report 2010, launched in October by a government-linked research institute.
Other cables contained claims that Nigeria's leadership was in total confusion over who was in charge early this year with then-president Umaru Yar'Adua thought to be in a "semi-comatose state." Yar'Adua died in May.
The documents also showed Washington put intense pressure on Berlin to not enforce arrest warrants against CIA agents involved in the 2003 abduction of a German citizen mistakenly believed to be a terrorist.
And senior Australian politicians insisted Sports Minister Mark Abib was not a "spy" for Washington after WikiLeaks cables reportedly revealed he was a "protected" source for the US.
Venceremos! We Will Win!
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