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Global fame, but who is Julian Assange of Wikileaks?

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has with his whistleblower website notched up a string of scoops, but he keeps much of his own life shrouded in mystery.

In the latest revelations, released by Al-Jazeera on Friday, information from US documents obtained by WikiLeaks alleges a US military cover-up of state-sanctioned Iraqi torture.

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It also alleges that hundreds of civilians were killed at US military checkpoints after the US-led invasion of 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Assange was on Monday denied a permit he had applied for to live and work in Sweden as he did not fulfil the requirements.

The Australian founder of the whistleblowing website applied to the Swedish Migration Board for a residence permit on August 18.

Two days after he filed his application, media revealed two women had reported him to police for rape and molestation.

Assange is still under investigation in Sweden, but the probe did not bar him from leaving the country.

Assange, who is locked in a dispute with the Pentagon over the leaking of confidential documents on Afghanistan, as well as aides denied the rape charge, suggesting dirty tricks.

The 39-year-old Australian has numerous revelations ranging from Iraq to Iceland under his belt even before his master stroke on Afghanistan catapulted him into the global spotlight.

WikiLeaks published nearly 77 000 classified US military documents on the war in Afghanistan on July 23.

Despite a wave of criticism that he had endangered lives, Assange insists the publication was an important part of WikiLeaks goal to revolutionise journalism.

“We are creating a new standard for free press,” he said during a visit to Stockholm, adding that “by doing so, we are hoping to liberalise the press across the world.”

The lanky former hacker may have transformed into a champion of transparency, but he divulges little about himself and will not even give his date of birth.

Assange, who is constantly on the move, bouncing from capital to capital and staying with supporters and friends of friends, says secrecy comes with the territory.

“We deal with organisations that do not follow the rules. We deal with intelligence agencies,” he said.

What is known is that Assange was born sometime in 1971 on Magnetic Island in northeastern Australia and spent his early years living there on and off with his mother.

In interviews with Australian media, Assange has described his childhood as nomadic, saying in all he attended 37 different schools.

Living in Melbourne in the 1990s, Assange says as a teenager he discovered a new talent: hacking.

But his new interest did not go undetected and he was charged with 30 counts of computer crime, including allegedly hacking police and US military computers.

He admitted most of the charges and walked away with a fine.

After his brush with crime, Assange says he worked in a number of different fields, as a security consultant, a researcher in journalism and started his own IT company.

In 2006, WikiLeaks was born.

“It started as a collaboration between a dozen people from human rights, journalism and technology” backgrounds, he said.

“We have three goals: free the press, establish rights and wrongs through exposing abuses and create and preserve the historical record.”

Since the Afghanistan documents were published, Assange has kept a low profile, chopping off his flowing silver locks that had earned him comparison to an angel.

He now refuses to provide a mobile phone number and says he suspects Australian authorities have frozen his bank account.

Iceland and Sweden, where he feels safest due to favourable legislation, are among his regular stopovers.

Reykjavik was the birthplace of Wikileaks’ first global scoop, a graphic video of a US military Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad in 2007 that killed two Reuters employees and a number of other people. – AFP

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