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London — Hackers rushed to the defense of WikiLeaks on Wednesday, launching a new attack on Visa after shutting down MasterCard, Swedish prosecutors, a Swiss bank and others who have acted against the site and jailed founder Julian Assange.

Internet “hacktivists” operating under the label “Operation Payback” claimed in a Twitter message, “we are attacking in an hour! Get your weapons ready and stay tuned,” NBC News reported.

Red Tape: WikiLeaks vigilante war spills onto Web

Visa’s corporate site,, became unavailable to many users Wednesday. “Visa’s corporate site – – is currently experiencing heavier than normal traffic. The company is taking steps to restore the site to full operations within the next few hours,” according to a Visa statement, NBC News reported.

But a Visa official told NBC News that its processing network, which handles cardholder transactions, was operational and account data was not at risk.

The group also claimed responsibility for hacking the website and personal information of former Gov. Sarah Palin. “No wonder others are keeping silent about Assange’s antics. This is what happens when he is exposed and you exercise your First Amendment rights and speak up against Assange’s sick, un-American espionage efforts,” Palin said in an email to NBC News.

But Operation Payback itself appeared to run into problems, with many of its sites went down. It was unclear who was behind the

Facebook banned the group from the social networking site Wednesday afternoon. “We take our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities very seriously and react quickly to reports of inappropriate content and behavior,” according to the Facebook statement, NBC News reported.

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