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Spain detains Russian hacking suspect wanted by Washington

CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP | A picture taken on July 8, 2016 shows the reflection of the Cathedral of Seville in a the windows of a van of the Spanish National Police in Seville

An alleged Russian hacker has been detained in Spain at the request of American authorities, an arrest that set cybersecurity circles abuzz after a Russian broadcaster raised the possibility it was linked to the US presidential election.

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Pyotr Levashov was arrested Friday in Barcelona on a US computer crimes warrant, according to a spokeswoman for Spain's National Court, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with court rules.

Such arrests aren't unusual - American authorities typically try to nab Russian cybercrime suspects abroad because of the difficulty involved in extraditing them from Russia - but Levashov's arrest drew immediate attention after his wife told a Russia's RT broadcaster he was linked to America's 2016 election hacking.

RT quoted Maria Levashova as saying that armed police stormed into their apartment in Barcelona overnight, keeping her and her friend locked in a room for two hours while they quizzed Levashov. She said that when she spoke to her husband on the phone from the police station, he told her that he had created a computer virus that was "linked to Trump's election win".

Her claim was strongly denied by Washington, with a source close to the matter telling AFP that Levashov's detention "is not tied to anything involving allegations of Russian interference with the US election".

Spanish police said in a statement late Monday that the arrest was the result of a "complex inquiry carried out in collaboration with the American FBI".

"The arrested man, aged 36, had notably created over several years an online infrastructure in 'botnet' form, networking computers unbeknown to their owners for illegal activities," the statement said.

Authorities "proceeded to dismantle the IT infrastructure... liberating on a massive scale victims' computers which were infected by the virus that he was using to take control of them".

Investigators said Levashov was believed to have been "carrying out this type of activity for more than 10 years, earning huge profits".

A Spanish court specialising in international cases will rule on whether Levashov will be sent to the US.

The US has 40 days to present evidence backing his extradition, which the suspect opposes.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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