Julian Assange is a much wanted man. A week after his WikiLeaks website began releasing the highly explosive secret US diplomatic cables, it seems every nation is baying for his blood.
While America and Europe are repeatedly denying that his troubles have anything to do with WikiLeaks, the coincidences are piling up and even the remotest claim that the storm wasn't politically motivated is looking farcical.
Assange was forced to flee from Sweden when he was accused of rape by two girls (who were never so sure that he had raped them earlier). Interpol even issued a warrant for his arrest. He was discovered in the UK where a second warrant was issued for his arrest and he is currently in British custody.
It has not escaped the notice of anyone that if Interpol took such a keen interest in hunting down every accused rapist in Europe, then the continent would be a much safer place. But apparently, Assange was a unique case.
His site has been forced to drift nomadically from server to server as each company found new reasons to deny the site its services. The funds that were collected for his defence were frozen and financial services institutions like Visa, MasterCard and PayPal declared his activities as illegal and refused to entertain further donations sent for him.
But the Internet is open and practically uncontrollable. The cables have continued to be leaked unabated.
Meanwhile an unknown number of hackers have banded together and began a concerted effort to cripple the sites that they feel have unfairly discriminated against WikiLeaks. The sites include the financial service sites, Twitter and even the website of the Swedish prosecutors who are charging him.
They declare themselves as soldiers for Assange and operate under the banner "Operation Payback" and have crippled the Visa and MasterCard website for short periods of time. Further attacks are expected to follow.
This strange contest between established business, governments and independent hackers is being dubbed the first 'cyber war'.
That may be a giddy overestimate at this stage. But if Assange's hackers succeed then we could be seeing a turning point in the Internet of a magnitude even someone as famously megalomaniacal and paranoid as Assange could never have imagined.
'Operation payback' cripples key websites | WikiLeaks defiant as Assange held in British custody
Text: Vinayak Hegde
Images: PTI/AP. Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited