Five WikiLeaks activists – part of a hacking group that targeted sites like Visa and Mastercard – have been arrested.

The group of “hacktivists”, aged between 15 and 26, were arrested this morning at various locations in the West Midlands, Northamptonshire, Herfordshire, Surrey and London.

Calling themselves Anonymous, the loose-knit group of hackers temporarily shut down the websites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after those companies cut off financial services to WikiLeaks.

The distributed denial of service attacks use software designed to illegally access a computer. Hacktivists flood their target’s server so it is overloaded and unavailable for legitimate users. As hacking goes, the process requires only minimal skills.

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The Metropolitan Police said: ”The arrests are in relation to recent and ongoing ‘distributed denial of service’ attacks (DDoS) by an online group calling themselves ‘Anonymous’.

”They are part of an ongoing MPS investigation into Anonymous which began last year following criminal allegations of DDoS attacks by the group against several companies.

”This investigation is being carried out in conjunction with international law enforcement agencies in Europe and the US.”

Anonymous carried out the attacks in support of WikiLeaks after Amazon and other companies terminated business links with the site.