SYDNEY — Australia lashed out Wednesday at WikiLeaks, calling it “incredibly irresponsible” for publishing a secret US cable detailing Australians with suspected links to Yemeni terrorism.
The whistle-blowing site’s latest batch of confidential and secret documents includes one from the US embassy in Canberra that recommends 11 Australians be placed on a no-fly list and a further 12 on another “selectee” watch list.
The cable, dated January 2010, names the 23, linking them to radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen believed to be a key figure in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Canberra normally does not comment on material published by Wikileaks, but Attorney-General Robert McClelland broke the government’s long-standing policy to condemn the latest unredacted release.
“I note that on occasions in the past, Wikileaks has decided to redact identifying features where security operations or safety could be put at risk. This has not occurred in this case,” he said in a statement.
“The publication of any information that could compromise Australia’s national security — or inhibit the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor potential threats — is incredibly irresponsible.
“The government condemns the publication of any document that could seriously impact Australia’s national security.”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, an Australian who has blasted Canberra for not doing enough to protect him amid the fallout from the leaks, swiftly hit back.
“Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland bemoans having his department being publicly caught out ratting out 23 Australians to the US embassy without due process,” Assange, who is under house arrest in England, told the ABC.
“If Mr McClelland is unhappy about being caught out, perhaps he should consider cancelling my Australian passport again.
“It has not, after all, proven terribly useful to me the last 267 days of my detention without charge.”
The former computer hacker is currently awaiting a British appeal hearing on whether he can be extradited to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault against two women.
He fears being sent to Sweden would be a precursor to being handed over to US authorities.
Several of those named in the latest Wikileaks release are female, with the cable suggesting they were potential recruits for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula which was looking to groom young women for suicide missions.
McClelland admitted Canberra had concerns about the growing terrorism threat emanating from Yemen, and its links with some Australians.
“A number of Australians have been drawn to extremist figures in Yemen, including to Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al-Qaeda linked-cleric based in Yemen,” he said.
“Australian authorities are working together with international partners to identify and mitigate threats, including by preventing Australians to travel overseas to undertake terrorism-related activity.”
Some of those named told local media they had done nothing wrong.
“This is fabricated news,” Sydney imam Sheikh Abdel Zoud told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I have no connection with this man (al-Awlaki).”
WikiLeaks has published thousands of cables since last year in which US diplomats give their often candid views on world leaders, to Washington’s acute embarrassment.
It has also leaked countless secret documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.