NBC News and news services
updated 8/21/2010 11:50:05 AM ET 2010-08-21T15:50:05

Swedish prosecutors withdrew an arrest warrant for the founder of WikiLeaks on Saturday, saying less than a day after the document was issued that it was based on an unfounded accusation of rape.

They said that for the moment Julian Assange remains suspected of the lesser crime of molestation in a separate case.

Swedish prosecutors had urged Assange — a nomadic 39-year-old Australian whose whereabouts were unclear — to turn himself in to police to face questioning in the cases.

"I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape," chief prosecutor Eva Finne said, in announcing the withdrawal of the warrant. She did not address the status of the molestation case.

But Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, told NBC News that the allegation of molestation remains. However, Rosander said that after a new prosecutor looked at the allegations, the arrest warrant was withdrawn because the severity of the case does not require an arrest at this stage.

Rosander told NBC News Swedish authorities have no idea where Assange is but have been trying to contact him.

Assange has no permanent address and travels frequently — jumping from one friend's place to the next. He disappears from public view for months at a time, only to reappear in the full glare of the cameras at packed news conferences to discuss his site's latest disclosure.

He was in Sweden last week seeking legal protection for the whistle-blower website, which angered the Obama administration for publishing thousands of leaked documents about U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange dismissed the rape allegations in a statement on WikiLeaks' Twitter page, saying "the charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing."

'Afghan War Diary'
The first files in its "Afghan War Diary" revealed classified military documents covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010. Assange said Wednesday that WikiLeaks plans to release a new batch of 15,000 documents from the Afghan war within weeks.

The Pentagon says the information could risk the lives of U.S. troops and their Afghan helpers and have demanded WikiLeaks return all leaked documents and remove them from the Internet.

Little is known about Assange's private life — he declined to talk about his background at a news conference in Stockholm a week ago. Equally secretive is the small team behind WikiLeaks, reportedly just a half-dozen people and casual volunteers who offer their services as needed.

A WikiLeaks spokesman, who says he goes by the name Daniel Schmitt in order to protect his identity, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Iceland that the "extremely serious allegations" came as a complete surprise and that efforts to find lawyers for Assange are under way.

"We are currently looking into the matter," Schmitt said. It will be resolved within the coming weeks and months, he added.

Twitter defense
WikiLeaks also commented on the allegations on its Twitter page. Apart from the comment from Assange, the page had a link to an article in Swedish tabloid Expressen, which first reported the allegations.

"We were warned to expect 'dirty tricks.' Now we have the first one," it said.

Assange was in Sweden last week partly to apply for a publishing certificate to make sure the website, which has servers in Sweden, can take full advantage of Swedish laws protecting whistle-blowers.

He also spoke at a seminar hosted by the Christian faction of the opposition Social Democratic party and announced he would write bimonthly columns for a left-wing Swedish newspaper.

NBC News' Peter Jeary and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Assange still under investigation

  1. Transcript of: Assange still under investigation

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: The man behind Wikileak and the recent release of thousands of secret US government war documents was the subject of a bizarre legal turnabout today. Just 24 hours after Swedish authorities accused him of rape, they suddenly dropped the charge. Tonight, however, he remains under criminal suspicion, even as he hopes to make news again soon for another release of classified war papers. From our London bureau tonight, here's NBC 's Tazeen Ahmad .

    TAZEEN AHMAD reporting: Last night Swedish prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Julian Assange on two separate charges of rape and molestation. The response was immediate. On Twitter , people called it a dirty tricks campaign. Assange himself said, "The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing." Later this morning, the rape charge was dropped.

    Ms. KARIN ROSANDER (Swedish Prosecuter's [shown on screen] Office): The latest developments are that the prosecutor in question has decided there's no longer reason to believe that Mr. Assange has committed rape. And therefore, there's no longer a warrant for his arrest.

    AHMAD: It comes just a few days after Wikileaks announced that another batch of sensitive documents are to be released, 15,000 more in the coming weeks.

    Mr. JULIAN ASSANGE (Wikileaks Founder): We understand that there are no easy choices for this organization, that we have a duty to get the truth out to the world , the truth to the Afghani people .

    AHMAD: In the past months, more than 75,000 Afghan war logs were leaked. Officials called it one of the biggest security breaches in US military history .

    Mr. RICHARD KEMP (Former British Army Colonel): The Taliban will be pouring over every single word of those reports, scrutinizing them even more closely than our own analysts, to see what they can find out about the way we operate against them.

    AHMAD: The US government has taken a harsh stance with Wikileaks and is looking into criminal charges against it.

    Mr. MARK TONER (State Department Spokesman): We view the publishing of these -- of these communications very seriously.

    AHMAD: But Assange is not deterred. He plans to move ahead at full steam.

    Mr. ASSANGE: We have a duty to all the people who can benefit from the release of that information. We are talking about information that derives from a war.

    AHMAD: Today's blog on the Web site said, "While Julian is focusing on his defenses and clearing his name, Wikileaks will be continuing its regular operations." Prosecutors have said that for

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