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06.20.10

WikiLeaks Founder Emerging?

Julian Assange, on the run from the Pentagon over alleged video of a U.S. massacre in Afghanistan, will appear in Brussels today, according to a source close to him. Philip Shenon reports.

The secretive website WikiLeaks says its elusive founder, Julian Assange, has come out of hiding.

A spokeswoman for the group says that Assange arrived Sunday evening in Brussels by air and will appear Monday at an anticensorship conference, where he is expected to reveal his timeline for releasing a classified Pentagon video depicting an American airstrike in Afghanistan that left as many as 140 civilians dead.

The statement by the spokeswoman, Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, about Assange’s arrival in Belgium could not immediately be confirmed. She would not say where Assange had traveled from.

It is not clear if American officials will attempt to make contact with Assange during his stay in Brussels.

Earlier in the day, Assange released his own statement announcing his appearance at the Brussels conference, his first public appearance since the disclosure of the arrest of an Army intelligence specialist accused of leaking to WikiLeaks. (Reporters have learned to be skeptical of Assange’s announcements about his whereabouts after WikiLeaks misled news organizations to believe that Assange would appear two weeks ago at a journalists’ convention in Las Vegas; he had in fact canceled his appearance there days earlier.)

It is not clear if American officials will attempt to make contact with Assange during his stay in Brussels.

Philip Shenon: Pentagon Snubs Leaker's LawyersU.S. officials have suggested they are eager to talk to Assange about his claims that he has—and is about to post—a video of the May 2009 American airstrike on the Afghan village of Garani. In terms of civilian deaths, the Garani attack is believed to have been the most lethal American airstrike since the United States invasion in 2001; most of the victims were reported to be children and teenagers.

The 22-year-old American soldier who is under arrest, Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland, is reported to have boasted in an Internet chat that he leaked the Garani video—and a separate combat video depicting a deadly American airstrike in Baghdad in 2007, which appeared on a WikiLeaks website in April—to Assange.

In the logs, which were first revealed by Wired magazine, Manning also appears to brag about having downloaded 260,000 classified diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks has said that it is so far unaware if it has the library of cables, which it says may be may be buried deep in its electronic in-basket of leaked documents.

For the last two weeks, the Australian-born Assange, who first gained notoriety as a computer hacker, has communicated to the outside world mostly through messages on the social-networking website Twitter. He was in his native Australia as recently as last month.

In a nine-word Twitter message this afternoon, WikiLeaks said: “Julian speaking to EU Parliamentarians tomorrow—live stream available.” The message linked to the website being used for an anticensorship conference sponsored by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

The Icelandic lawmaker, Birgitta Jonsdottir, a longtime political activist in her homeland, is also scheduled to appear on the panel entitled: “(Self) Censorship—New Challenges for Freedom of Express in Europe.”

Assange has declined to answer repeated requests for comment from The Daily Beast. In an email to supporters last week, he said he was preparing the “Garani massacre” video for release on the website and called for financial help.

Jonsdottir said WikiLeaks is attempting to organize a team of private criminal defense lawyers to assist Manning.

Last week, she said, the Pentagon rebuffed efforts by some of the lawyers to contact Manning, who is reported to be held in Kuwait and represented by a military lawyer. The Pentagon has declined to comment in recent days on Manning’s status.

A spokeswoman for the conference in Brussels had no immediate comment today on whether Assange would appear Monday—and if so, how.

Philip Shenon, a former investigative reporter at The New York Times, is the author of The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation.