LONDON -- Britain's Supreme Court has endorsed the extradition of WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange to Sweden, bringing the secret-spilling Internet activist a big step closer to prosecution in a Scandinavian court.
Assange, 40, has spent the better part of two years fighting attempts to send him to the Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in sex crime allegations. He has not been charged there.
The U.K. side of that struggle appeared to come to a messy end Wednesday, with the nation's highest court ruling 5-2 that the warrant seeking his arrest was properly issued - and Assange's lawyer arguing that the case should be reopened.
Supreme Court President Nicholas Phillips, speaking for the majority, acknowledged that Assange's case "has not been simple to resolve," but that the court had ultimately concluded that "the request for Mr. Assange's extradition has been lawfully made and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed."
Assange won't be sent to Sweden immediately no matter what happens. His lawyer, Dinah Rose, stood up after the verdict to say that court's ruling was based on evidence that was not argued during the appeal, requesting time to study the verdict further with an eye toward trying to reopen the case.
Phillips said he would give Rose two weeks to decide.
Even if the Supreme Court refuses to revisit its judgment, Assange could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, although extradition experts have said such a maneuver would be unlikely to block his removal to Sweden for long.
If the ruling stands, it would mark a low point in Assange's career. The former computer hacker shot to international prominence in 2010 with the release of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents, including a hard-to-watch video that showed U.S. forces gunning down a crowd of Iraqi civilians and journalists that they'd mistaken for insurgents.
His release of a quarter-million classified U.S. State Department cables in the final months of that year outraged Washington and destabilized American diplomacy worldwide.
But his work exposing government secrets increasingly came under a cloud after two Swedish women accused him of molestation and rape following a visit to the country in mid-2010. Assange denies wrongdoing, saying the sex was consensual, but has refused to go to Sweden, claiming he won't get a fair trial there.
He and his supporters have also hinted that the sex allegations are a cover for a planned move to extradite him to the United States, where he claims he's been secretly indicted for the WikiLeaks disclosures.
Those allegations, paired with protracted legal wrangling in British courts, have caused irritation in Sweden.
Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer who represents the two Swedish women who accuse Assange of sex crimes, expressed relief at the U.K. Supreme Court's decision, but said the British judicial system should have dealt with the case more quickly.
"Now, finally, we have a decision," Borgstrom told The Associated Press, saying the long wait had been stressful for his clients. He dismissed suggestions that the underlying motive behind the extradition is to hand Assange over to the United States.
"He is not at a greater risk of being handed over from Sweden than from Britain," Borgstrom said.
Assange did not appear in court Wednesday. Attempts to reach him for comment weren't immediately successful.
Associated Press Writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.