STOCKHOLM — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview published Sunday he believed the Pentagon could be behind a rape allegation against him that was swiftly dropped by Swedish authorities.
His comments came as prosecutors justified their treatment of the 39-year-old Australian, whose whistleblowing website is embroiled in a row with Washington over the publication of secret Afghan war documents.
The Aftonbladet newspaper quoted Assange as saying he did not know who was "hiding behind" the rape claim, which prompted prosecutors to issue a warrant for his arrest on Friday but which was cancelled the following day.
"But we have been warned that for instance the Pentagon will use dirty tricks to destroy us. I have furthermore been warned about set-up sex traps," he said, in a translation of comments published in Swedish.
The former computer hacker described the allegations as "shocking" and said he had "never, neither in Sweden nor in any other country, had sex with someone in a way which wasn't completely voluntary on both sides."
Assange told Aftonbladet -- for which he last week agreed to write a regular column -- that his enemies would still use the claims to damage WikiLeaks despite the lifting of the warrant.
The website is set to publish 15,000 more secret papers about the war in Afghanistan in coming weeks, having recently released nearly 77,000 papers and sparking charges that it had endangered the lives of informants and others.
"I know from experience that WikiLeaks' enemies continue to trumpet things even after they have been denied," Assange said.
He refused to give more details about the two women whose claims sparked the furore, saying that it would impinge on their privacy.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said any allegation of dirty tricks was "absurd".
Sweden's prosecution service said Saturday that Assange was now "not suspected of rape" and was no longer wanted for questioning on the allegation, but added that an investigation into a separate molestation charge remained open.
He had been in Stockholm earlier this month giving a press conference on the upcoming release of the last batch of Afghanistan documents, but he generally remains on the move around the world staying with supporters.
He told Aftonbladet he was currently at a friend's summerhouse in northern Sweden.
As the furore over the arrest warrant grew, the Swedish prosecutor's office issued a statement on Sunday defending its actions.
It said that chief prosecutor Eva Finne, who was responsible for withdrawing the arrest warrant, had "more information available to decide on Saturday than the duty prosecutor on Friday evening".
"A decision regarding restrictive measures, such as this, must always be reevaluated in a preliminary inquiry," the statement added.
Prosecutor's office spokeswoman Karin Rosander told AFP late Saturday that the procedure followed was normal and would have been launched automatically by the duty prosecutor in serious cases such as rape.
Separately the duty prosecutor, Maria Haljebo Kjellstrand, said that she "did not regret her decision".
The two women who originally made the allegations did not make an official complaint and it was the police who took the decision to inform the prosecutor's office, she told Expressen newspaper, which broke the story of the charges.
"I received a report from the police which seemed to me to be sufficient to arrest him. On Friday evening I got a call from the police describing what the women said. The information I received was convincing enough for me to take my decision," Hljebo Kjellstrand was quoted as saying.
WikiLeaks and the Pentagon are locked in a bitter dispute over the Afghan papers, with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling the website "guilty" on moral grounds and Assange saying that the site would not be threatened.
The Pentagon has said it would not negotiate a "sanitised" release of the documents, as WikiLeaks had suggested it might in order that US officials could help analyse the documents and avoid publishing the names of people whose lives could be threatened.
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