Australia blasts latest WikiLeaks release
Whistleblowing site criticised for releasing US cable naming Australians with alleged Yemeni terrorism ties.
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2011 07:50
Assange is awaiting a British hearing on his appeal to have his extradition to Sweden blocked [GALLO/GETTY]

Australia has denounced WikiLeaks for its latest publication of a secret US cable that appears to list Australians with suspected ties to Yemeni terrorism.

The government normally does not comment on material published by the whistleblowing site but Robert McClelland, the attorney-general, broke the long-standing policy on Wednesday, calling the release  "incredibly irresponsible".

"I note that on occasions in the past, Wikileaks has decided to redact identifying features where security operations or safety could be put at risk. This has not occurred in this case," McClleland said in a statement.

"The publication of any information that could compromise Australia's national security - or inhibit the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor potential threats - is incredibly irresponsible.

"The government condemns the publication of any document that could seriously impact Australia's national security."

The recent batch of unredacted confidential and secret US documents included one from the US embassy in Canberra, the Australian capital, that names 11 Australians to be put on a no-fly list and a further 12 on another "selectee" watch list.

The January 2010 cable naming the 23 Australians links them to radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen believed to be a key figure in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP).

Several of those named are female, with the cable suggesting they were potential recruits for AQIP which was looking to groom young women for suicide missions.

McClelland said Canberra had concerns about the growing terrorism threat emanating from Yemen, and its links with some Australians.

"A number of Australians have been drawn to extremist figures in Yemen, including to Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al-Qaeda linked-cleric based in Yemen," he said.

"Australian authorities are working together with international partners to identify and mitigate threats, including by preventing Australians to travel overseas to undertake terrorism-related activity."

Some of those named told local media they had done nothing wrong.

"This is fabricated news," Sydney imam Sheikh Abdel Zoud told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I have no connection with this man [al-Awlaki]."

"The United States strongly condemns any illegal disclosure of classified information," Victoria Nuland, a US State Department spokeswoman, said.

Swift response

Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, who has criticised his home country of not providing enough protection during the fallout from earlier leaks, fired back at McClleland.

"Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland bemoans having his department being publicly caught out ratting out 23 Australians to the US embassy without due process," Assange, who is under house arrest in England, told the Australian broadcaster ABC on Wednesday.

"If Mr McClelland is unhappy about being caught out, perhaps he should consider cancelling my Australian passport again.

"It has not, after all, proven terribly useful to me the last 267 days of my detention without charge."

Assange, a former computer hacker, is awaiting a British hearing on his appeal to have his extradition to Sweden - over the allegations of sexual assault against two women - blocked.

He fears being sent to Sweden could lead to him being taken to the US to be served with much harsher charges.

WikiLeaks has published thousands of cables since last year in which US diplomats give their often candid views on world leaders, to Washington's acute embarrassment.

The website said on Wednesday that it was fending off a cyberattack after being lambasted for releasing the latest US diplomatic cables.

"WikiLeaks.org is presently under cyberattack," the organisation said in a tweet on Wednesday.

The US state department did not confirm the authenticity of the latest documents.

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