ONLINE payment service PayPal has cut off the account used by WikiLeaks to collect donations, dealing another blow to the organisation as it tries to survive in the wake of the leaked cables scandal.
• Assange: Claims of threats to personal security
PayPal said the move was prompted by a violation of its policy, which states that it "cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity".
The online payment service is one of the main ways WikiLeaks collects donations and until now was the most secure and convenient way to support the organisation.
The controversial organisation has come under sustained attack - including a series of cyber attacks on its website - following the release of highly embarrassing US diplomatic cables.
WikiLeaks founder and leader, Julian Assange, was yesterday still in hiding - reportedly in the UK - after Swedish authorities re-issued a warrant for the 39-year-old Australian national's arrest on charges of allegations of rape that emerged after a trip to Sweden in August.
Assange claimed that he had increased the personal security around his hide-out following death threats. Writing on a website yesterday during a Q&A session, Assange said: "The threats against our lives are a matter of public record, however, we are taking the appropriate precautions to the degree that we are able when dealing with a super power."
Assange added that material from the diplomatic cables and other documents had been sent in encrypted form "to over 100,000 people" and would be released if WikiLeaks senior members were caught or killed.
"If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically," he added.
WikiLeaks' website has been brought down numerous times since the cables were released by what are called denial-of-service attacks.
In a typical such attack, remote computers commandeered by rogue programs bombard a website with so many data packets that it becomes overwhelmed and unavailable to visitors. Pinpointing the culprits is difficult and the attacks are relatively easy to mount and can be performed by amateurs.
Wikileaks.org remained down last night, although its German and Swiss domains were still running.
The loss of the donations account could be a severe blow to the organisation.Previously the PayPal account redirected users to the German-based The Wau Holland Foundation which provides the organisation with the money. Last night the foundation confirmed that their PayPal account had been taken down because of the "financial support to WikiLeaks".
The foundation's president Winfried Motzkus said that Wau Holland has so far collected 630,000 for WikiLeaks, to fund the organisation's annual expenses of around 130,000.
The other options listed on WikiLeaks' website are through mail to an Australian post office box, through bank transfers to accounts in Switzerland, Germany or Iceland, as well as through one "credit card processing partner" in Switzerland.
Yesterday, it published cables from the US embassy in London that showed American officials mocking Britain for its "paranoia" over the state of the special relationship.
Deputy head of mission Richard LeBaron wrote that the anxiety had become particularly frenzied following Barack Obama's election as president, with media reports that his removal of a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office was seen as a sign of waning US commitment to Britain.
"This over-reading would often be humorous, if it were not so corrosive," wrote LeBaron.
It would be "tempting" to keep the British government guessing about its standing in Washington, in order to "make London more willing to respond favourably when pressed for assistance", suggested the diplomat.
But he concluded that "unparalleled" UK support for US global priorities made it vital to reassure the British public that the relationship remains strong.
The cables also revealed that senior Tories spoke of their pro-American credentials in meetings with US diplomats ahead of this year's election.
Foreign Secretary William Hague told LeBaron that the Tories would be a "pro-American regime", while Defence Secretary Liam Fox told ambassador Louis Susman that the special relationship would be "especially close in the defence sphere under Tory leadership".
Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders has condemned the attacks on Assange and "the blocking, cyber-attacks and political pressure" in what it called the first "attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency".