U.K. hacking suspect has autism, lawyer says

Artist impression by courts artist Elizabeth Cook of Ryan Cleary appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court as the teenager who is accused of carrying out a hacking attack against the website of the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency. AP Images

LONDON - A British teenager accused of mounting computer attacks against a series of websites is autistic and should be released on bail, his lawyer said Saturday.

Defense attorney Ben Cooper said 19-year-old Ryan Cleary had been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome since his arrest and has agoraphobia, a condition which generally refers to fear of social situations.

The diagnosis echoes the case of British hacker Gary McKinnon, who has admitted to breaking into U.S. military computers following the Sept. 11 attacks. Efforts to extradite him to the U.S. have been delayed for years over questions about his mental health - he was diagnosed with Asperger's in 2008 - while McKinnon has drawn widespread public sympathy as his case has dragged on.

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So far, Cleary has only been accused of cybercrimes against U.K.-based organizations - such as attacks last year on music industry websites, or a more recent attack on Britain's FBI equivalent, the Serious Organized Crime Agency.

But earlier this week, District Judge Quentin Purdy told Cleary that additional charges were possible. Cleary's attacks coincide with campaigns launched by the amorphous Internet campaign group Anonymous and the smaller Lulz Security group of hackers - both of whom have hit U.S. targets. Police have said Cleary was arrested as the result of a joint investigation with U.S. law enforcement.

The Guardian newspaper reported that FBI officials had flown to Britain to question Cleary as part of their investigation. FBI and British law enforcement have both declined to comment.

Cleary, who has yet to enter a plea, was granted bail Saturday, but it was opposed by prosecutors, which means that the teen must remain behind bars until Monday, when the case will be re-examined.

Even if Cleary is released on bail, it would be on the condition that he be barred from accessing the Internet and forbidden from leaving the house without his mother, Rita Cleary.

Lulz Security, which describes itself as a six-member hacking collective, denies that Cleary was ever a member of its group.

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