, ZURICH, Dec 9 – Hackers attacked the websites of credit card giants Mastercard and Visa in revenge for their decisions to cut off funding to whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
The group "Anonymous" claimed credit for bringing down the websites of the two firms after they suspended payments to WikiLeaks, and for attacking the site of a Swiss bank that closed an account of site founder Julian Assange.
"Hackers Take Down Visa.com in the Name of Wikileaks. Wow. This is getting crazy," said a message from the group on microblogging site Twitter, as the attacks started to take on the appearance of a cyber war. Related article:WikiLeaks\’ opponents in sights of \’Anonymous\’ hackers
The fallout from the US State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, which said it had nothing to do with the hacking, meanwhile continued Wednesday with news organizations in the United States and Europe releasing more revelations.
Britain\’s Guardian newspaper published cables that showed a top Shell executive boasting the oil giant had inserted staff into all levels of the Nigerian government and knew "everything that was being done in those ministries." Key points in latest WikiLeaks revelations
Cables posted by the New York Times, meanwhile, recounted how Washington pressured Germany to not issue arrest warrants against CIA officers involved in the 2003 kidnapping of a German citizen mistakenly thought to be involved with Islamic militants.
As Assange spent his first full day in a London prison after he was refused bail on Tuesday, it emerged that one of Britain\’s highest-profile lawyers will fight moves to extradite him to Sweden to face rape accusations.
WikiLeaks has enraged governments around the world by releasing a wave of US diplomatic cables, detailing everything from China\’s view of North Korea to unflattering descriptions of world leaders.
After WikiLeaks appealed for donations to be able to continue its activities, Mastercard and Visa said they were suspending payments to the site, sparking attacks on their websites.
The Swiss Post Office banking service, PostFinance, also became a target on Wednesday after earlier in the week revealing that it had closed an account set up by Assange, saying he had given false information.
Cyber attacks by "Anonymous" knocked all three sites offline on Wednesday.
Even US conservative icon Sarah Palin was a target of the group following her call to pursue Assange "with the same urgency we pursue Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders."
Mastercard claimed the attack had limited effect on its services, saying in a statement to the BBC: "While we have seen limited interruption in some web-based services, cardholders can continue to use their cards for secure transactions globally."
"Anonymous" launched its campaign at the weekend with an attack on PayPal, which blocked financial transfers to WikiLeaks last week.
It now claims to have recruited some 4,000 hackers to launch coordinated attacks aimed at overwhelming a site so it slows down or is knocked offline completely.
"Anyone that has an anti-WikiLeaks agenda is within our scope of attack," said the group in an online chat with Agence France-Presse.
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told AFP the hackers were "not associated" with his organisation.
"We are not associated with them and this is a decision that they are taking. It is part of a consumers\’ response, I gather," he said.
Geoffrey Robertson, a barrister who has established a reputation for arguing for victims of human rights abuses, will defend Assange in his attempts to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faces allegations of rape and molestation.
After lying low for weeks, Assange emerged on Tuesday and handed himself in to police in London, appearing before a judge who denied him bail despite offers by celebrities, including film director Ken Loach, to put up surety. Focus: The allegations against the WikiLeaks\’ boss
He was ordered to return to court on December 14.
Assange\’s supporters insist the extradition request is politically motivated, a claim refuted by the lawyer for the two Swedish women behind the rape claims.
"There is absolutely no link between what those two women have been through and WikiLeaks, the CIA, or the American administration," Claes Borgstroem told reporters in Stockholm.
In other releases, set to continue as WikiLeaks promised despite Assange\’s arrest, cables showed Washington had branded Australia\’s ex-premier Kevin Rudd as a "mistake-prone control freak."
That prompted Rudd — now Australian foreign minister — to blame the United States for the leak of secret cables, pointing to a "core problem" with its diplomatic security.