A Swedish prosecutor said Thursday she had requested the arrest of Julian Assange, the founder of whistleblower website WikiLeaks, to face charges of rape and sexual molestation.
"I request the District Court of Stockholm to detain Mr. Assange in his absence, suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion," Swedish director of prosecutions Marianne Ny said in a statement in English.
"The reason for my request is that we need to interrogate him. So far, we have not been able to meet with him to accomplish the interrogations."
The Stockholm court was set to hold a hearing at 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) Thursday on whether to order Assange's detention, which according to Swedish media would allow authorities to issue an international warrant for his arrest.
"Due to the ongoing investigation and the parties involved, the prosecutor cannot at the moment give more information concerning the suspicions or which investigation matters have been conducted," the prosecution authority's statement said.
A warrant was first issued for Assange's arrest on August 20 by another prosecutor, but was withdrawn just hours later.
Ny, head of the department that oversees prosecution of sex crimes, reopened the rape probe against the 39-year-old Australian on September 1, but did not request his detention and allowed him to leave Sweden.
Assange has hinted the allegations against him could be part of a "smear campaign" aimed at discrediting his website, which is locked in a row with the Pentagon over the release of secret US documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US intelligence services "are probably very happy now," he said in an interview with AFP in September, adding however that "mentioning their involvement is for now only speculation."
WikiLeaks last month published an unprecedented 400,000 classified US documents on the Iraq war and posted 77,000 secret US files on the Afghan conflict in July.
As for the two women at the centre of the Swedish rape and sexual molestation probe, whose names have not been made public, Assange admitted in the September interview with AFP that he had met them both, but refused to say if he had sex with either of them, calling it "a private matter."
Two days before the allegations against Assange were made public in August, he had applied for a work and residency permit in Sweden, where some of Wikileaks' servers are situated, but his application was turned down on October 18.
Assange moves around a lot, and his whereabouts remained unclear Thursday.
He last spoke publicly in Geneva on November 4, when he said he was considering requesting asylum and basing his website in neutral Switzerland.
WikiLeaks also said last week it had registered its first known legal entity in Iceland -- a business that so far has no office or activity.
Last Updated (Thursday, 18 November 2010 16:48)