America has sent Britain a formal request to extradite Julian Assange in a bid to put him on trial for leaking military secrets.
Assange is due in a British court for an extradition hearing on Friday and is wanted across the Atlantic for what U.S. officials call ‘one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States’.
Justice Department officials sent the official request on Thursday, meeting a 60-day deadline after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested on April 11, government sources told the Washington Post.
Assange is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in ‘unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense’.
The UK Home Office has confirmed to MailOnline that it received a full extradition request.
In a statement the Home Office said: ‘Mr Assange was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States of America. He is accused of offences including computer misuse and the unauthorized disclosure of national defence information.’
The Justice Department said that by publishing unredacted versions of the leaked files, Assange put ‘named human sources at a grave and imminent risk’.
However, Assange is expected to fight the extradition and his lawyers may argue the charges are politically motivated.
Meanwhile Sweden last week decided not to extradite Assange over the rape allegation which first led him to seek asylum.
After the indictment under the Espionage Act was announced last month, WikiLeaks swiftly issued a tweet describing the move as ‘madness’.
‘It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment,’ it said.
Manning handed over databases containing roughly 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports and 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, the Justice Department said.
There were also 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs and 250,000 US Department of State cables, it added.
Assange was dramatically dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in April, seven years after he sought political asylum there.
Ecuador lost patience with Assange and accused him of creating conflict by meddling in international affairs and harassing staff at the embassy.
He was then jailed for 50 weeks by a UK court for a bail breach.
U.S. authorities allege the whistleblower conspired with Manning, 31, ‘with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation’.
Assange published the documents on WikiLeaks with unredacted names of sources who gave information to US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘These human sources included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes,’ the Justice Department said.
Manning was freed from prison in 2017 after her sentence was reduced by then-President Barack Obama.