US stocks end with $1 trillion loss

After a string of warnings that Europe and the United States must do more to put their economies in order, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday provided the straw that broke the market’s back.

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The bank’s warning, that there are “significant downside risks to the economic outlook,” sent stocks into a tailspin with the Dow Jones industrial average losing nearly 800 points over the next 24 hours.

By the end of Thursday an estimated $103 billion had been wiped off the value of that 30-member index.

But the sea of red did not end with the blue chips.

According to figures from the Wilshire 5000, the broadest index available for the US equity market, around $1 trillion was lost during the week.

That made it the second worst week since October 2008 — the height of the financial crisis.

Stocks eventually halted their downward slide on Friday, with the Dow ending the day just above the break-even mark despite ongoing gloom about the state of the global economy.

The bounce-back came despite a tepid view of policymakers’ responses to the rekindled crisis.

A pledge from G20 finance ministers to mount a powerful response to global recovery threats appeared to do little to assuage fears.

The finance chiefs noted “heightened downside risks from sovereign stresses, financial system fragility, market turbulence, weak economic growth and unacceptably high unemployment.”

That drew a muted response on Wall Street.

“The market is worried about the European situation and that the officials are moving too slow in terms of their action of getting things under control,” said Scott Marcouiller of Wells Fargo Advisors.

“It’s fear and uncertainty, the two things that the markets hate the most, it is continuing to dominate the marketplace.”

The Dow ended the week down 6.4 percent at 10,771.48 points.

The broader S&P 500 fell 6.5 percent to 1,136.43 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 5.3 percent to 2,483.23.

Traders predicted more choppiness ahead.

“It’s going to be a period of tremendous volatility,” said Gina Martin of Wells Fargo Securities.

“It will depend on what happens with policy in Europe, fiscal policy in the US, and probably the eco data and how much weaker the eco data gets.

“We’re starting to price in weaker data, it’s just a matter of how much weaker the economy gets. If the data says a recession is more likely the market will suffer.”

Socceroos launch World Cup campaign

The Australians have lost only once in 11 matches under German Osieck this year among wins over Germany and Wales and are vying for their third consecutive finals’ appearance in Brazil in three years time.

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Osieck is blending the big-name Socceroo stars with emerging overseas-based talent and the best of the domestic A-League, to be reinforced this season with the return from Europe of senior internationals Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton.

Everton star Cahill, the team’s talisman with 23 goals in 52 internationals, believes a new era in Australian football is evolving.

“I think our depth is fantastic after seeing players like (Michael) Zullo, James Troisi or (Adam) Sarota come through,” Cahill said Thursday.

“I focus on what we have here and the players that bring so much to the team.

“And I was really impressed with what I saw in (the recent 2-1 friendly win against) Wales.

“It’s fantastic to be a part of the last era and move forward to this era with these players. The transition is perfect.”

The Thais, coached by German Winfried Schaefer, are ranked 98 slots below Asia’s second-ranked team Australia and face a stiff test in their first outing in Group D.

Thailand won through to the group stage after a 3-2 two-legged playoff against Palestine, but Schaefer, who led Cameroon to the 2002 World Cup, is confident his team can trouble the fancied Australians.

“Australia play a high standard of football, but I think we can give them a good game,” Schaefer said.

“I think we have the speed with our short-passing game to upset them, but you must fight, you must run and you must play with courage against Australia.”

Australia won 4-0 the last time the two teams met in a 2007 Asian Cup match in Bangkok.

Thailand have been offered a team bonus of two million baht (around US$65,000) to bring off an upset win over the Socceroos.

“We have never offered this amount of money before, but this is because it is an important match and we don’t want to miss the chance to qualify for the World Cup,” said Thai FA board member Samart Suppoj.

Cahill insists there will be no Australian complacency.

“It’s all about attitude and the way we apply ourselves. Respect to them, they’ll be difficult, but hopefully we’ll get off to a flying start,” he said.

Manning ‘had Assange contact info’

Investigators say they found contact information for Julian Assange on a computer hard drive belonging to US soldier Bradley Manning, who is accused of spilling secrets to Assange’s WikiLeaks organisation.

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Testifying on Monday at a hearing to determine if Manning should face a court-martial, the investigators also said they found evidence of online chats between the US Army private and a computer user identified by the handle “Julian Assange”.

In addition, the US Army digital forensics experts said they recovered State Department cables, US military field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and other classified material from Manning’s computers and storage devices.

The testimony, which came on the fourth day of the hearing being held at this sprawling army base, was the most compelling government evidence yet linking Manning to one of the most serious intelligence breaches in US history.

Manning, who turned 24 on Saturday, could face life in prison if convicted of “aiding the enemy,” the most serious of the 22 charges he is facing.

ASSANGE CONTACTS

Mark Johnson, a private contractor who works for the US Army’s Computer Crime Investigative Unit (CCIU), said a computer hard drive obtained from Manning had contact information for Assange, the Australian-born WikiLeaks founder.

US Army prosecutors showed a screenshot of a message said to be taken from a file on the drive. “You can currently reach our investigations editor directly in Iceland – 354 862 3481 – 24 hour service – Ask for Julian Assange,” it said.

The investigators also said they had recovered online chats between Manning and a user by the name “Julian Assange” during which WikiLeaks was discussed.

Assange, who is in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, has consistently denied knowing the source of the material received by his site but has expressed support for Manning.

CABLES FOUND

The investigators said they had found a file on an SD card recovered from Manning’s aunt’s house that contained 91,000 US military field reports from Afghanistan and another 400,000 from Iraq.

They did not specifically state that the reports matched those released by WikiLeaks but the anti-secrecy site published approximately the same number.

Special Agent David Shaver, head of the CCIU’s digital forensics and research branch, said investigators had also found 10,000 State Department cables that were apparently not passed on to WikiLeaks because of a corrupted file.

Among the documents Manning is suspected of giving WikiLeaks are some 260,000 State Department cables which led to an embarrassing string of revelations for the United States and other governments.

Shaver also said an additional 100,000 complete State Department cables which had been encoded were found on a computer used by Manning between November 2009, when he was deployed to Iraq, and May 2010, when he was arrested.

THE HEARING

The courtroom was cleared twice – over defense objections – on Monday of the general public and the media to allow for discussion of classified material.

Defense attorneys have argued that Manning struggled with gender issues and emotional problems but his superiors repeatedly failed to provide counselling, take disciplinary action or revoke his top secret security clearance.

His defense attorneys have also suggested that Manning, who is gay, had difficulty serving in a US military that was operating under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards homosexuals which has since been repealed.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was escorted out of the hearing on Monday after approaching the defense table and introducing himself to Manning during a break in the proceedings, witnesses said.

Ellsberg was told by security officers it was a violation of the court rules to approach Manning but was allowed to return when the hearing resumed.

Thai PM-in-waiting confident she will be cleared

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Document”> Thai prime minister-in-waiting Yingluck Shinawatra said Wednesday that she was confident that alleged campaign irregularities which are holding up her appointment would be dismissed.

Thailand’s Election Commission on Tuesday put off a decision on whether to approve Yingluck and 141 other candidates, including outgoing premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, as members of the 500-seat lower house.

“There’s still time left under the law. I think the EC is trying to finish its investigation,” she said. “I hope and am confident that the EC will treat me and my Puea Thai Party with fairness and justice.”

Any move to disqualify Yingluck — the sister of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawtra — would infuriate the opposition “Red Shirt” protest movement that was behind mass rallies in Bangkok last year that turned deadly.

Yingluck has formed a six-party coalition that will control about three fifths of the lower chamber.

The new parliament must convene within 30 days of the July 3 election to select a house speaker, and has another 30 days to pick a prime minister.

The election commission is investigating complaints by Abhisit’s Democrat Party that banned politicians such as Thaksin were involved in its rivals’ campaign, whose slogan was “Thaksin thinks, Puea Thai does.”

Yingluck has denied the accusations, saying she received only guidance from her brother, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

“He merely offered ideas and advice but was not involved in the party administration and decisions,” she said of Thaksin, who is widely seen as the de facto opposition leader.

The election commission has rejected a separate complaint that Yingluck sought to buy votes by giving away noodles she cooked during campaigning.

Two Thaksin parties have been dissolved by the courts in the past and their top executives, including the former leader, were banned from politics.

Abhisit is also being investigated by the poll body over complaints that the sale of discount goods at a fair he attended constituted vote buying.

He said he was surprised by the EC announcement, but confident he had not breached regulations.

“I am not worried and I’m ready to explain every case because I was not breaking any law,” he told reporters.

He called on Yingluck to tell the Red Shirts not to pressure authorities, after about 100 members of the movement gathered peacefully in support of her Puea Thai party outside Tuesday’s election commission meeting.

“They should stop, and I want Yingluck to clearly state that she does not support this kind of behaviour, otherwise conflict will be unending,” he said.

The commission is due to announce further endorsements of candidates on July 19.

China opposes ‘unilateral’ sanctions on Iran

China said it opposed “unilateral” sanctions against Iran, after US President Barack Obama signed into law new measures targeting the Islamic republic’s central bank.

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Washington’s move came after the United States, Britain and Canada said in November they were slapping additional sanctions on Iran, citing evidence that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Tehran denies the allegations, saying its nuclear programme is exclusively for medical and power generation purposes, and China has repeatedly said sanctions will not resolve the issue.

“China opposes placing one’s domestic law above international law and imposing unilateral sanctions against other countries,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei in response to a question about US sanctions on Iran.

China and Iran have become major economic partners in recent years, partly due to the withdrawal of Western companies in line with sanctions against Tehran.

In July last year, the two countries signed a series of agreements worth $4 billion for infrastructure projects in the water, mining, energy and industrial sectors.

Hong acknowledged that China has regular “open and transparent economic and energy interactions with Iran”.

“These interactions do not violate UN Security Council resolutions and will not impair third party interests,” he said. “Therefore these interactions should not be affected.”

The new US sanctions — signed into law at the weekend — aim to further squeeze Iran’s crucial oil revenues, as most of those funds are processed by the nation’s central bank.

Under the measures, foreign firms will have to choose between doing business with the Islamic republic or the economically mighty United States.

Iranian leaders and military officials have warned that such sanctions could push them to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil flows.

Already in November, Britain said it was ceasing contact between its financial system and that of Iran, while Canada announced new sanctions targeting most transactions with Tehran.

At the time, the United States announced sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and warned firms against dealing with the Islamic republic’s financial sector, naming the country “a primary money laundering concern”.

But China and Russia — key allies of Iran — have often sought to take a softer stance on the Islamic republic than their fellow members of the UN Security Council.

US to boost Nigerian security as attacks continue

The US has agreed to boost the capabilities of Nigerian security forces, as gunmen opened fire and threw explosives at a police station in the city of Kano, residents said, four days after coordinated bombings and shootouts killed 185 people there.

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“It was around 6:30 (pm) when people were preparing for the evening prayers and a large group of gunmen arrived in the area and opened fire on the police station and threw in bombs,” said a resident of the Sheka area of the city.

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It was unclear if there were casualties in the Northern city.

Another resident said he could see fire coming from the building in the city still reeling from Friday’s attacks that targetted mainly police buildings.

Friday’s wave of attacks in Kano were the deadliest operation launched by Islamist sect Boko Haram since it began a bloody campaign in July 2009 which Human Rights Watch said Tuesday has left close to 1,000 people dead.

The US State Department urged Africa’s most populous nation and top oil producer to “stand united” in the face of growing sectarian strife, while a visiting US delegation promised security assistance.

POLICE CRACKDOWN

Earlier gunfire erupted when security forces raided a house suspected to be a Boko Haram hideout shortly after midnight.

They opened fire and a suspect fired back resulting in a shootout lasting around four-and-half hours.

“Everybody in the neighbourhood was in fear. We couldn’t sleep,” said a resident.

Nine attackers, at least five of them suicide bombers, died in the Friday onslaught.

Human Rights Watch said “Boko Haram’s attacks show a complete and utter disregard for human life” and urged the authorities to put an end to the violent campaign.

According to the New York-based rights group, Boko Haram has killed more than 935 people since the group – whose name can be loosely translated as “Western education is sin” – launched a violent campaign in July 2009.

More than 250 of those deaths have come in 2012 alone.

US URGES UNITY

“This is a time for all Nigerians to stand united against the enemies of civility and peace,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

She also urged the Nigerian authorities to fully investigate the attacks, including those against Christians, and hold the perpetrators accountable.

A US delegation led by William Fitzgerald, the deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Joseph McMillan, the principal deputy assistant secretary for defence, held security talks with Nigeria in the capital Abuja on Tuesday.

The two sides agreed to boost the operational capabilities of the Nigeria security services in the face of internal security threats. They would consider training, intelligence sharing and modernisation of the security services.

Boko Haram which has staged a series of increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks, often targeting security agencies and lately Christians, is believed to have a number of factions with differing aims, including some with political links and a hardcore Islamist cell.

A top African Union official warned of the possibility of the radical sect spreading its violence campaigns to other African countries.

“The possibility of this group expanding its activities into the neighbouring countries, deep into the Central African region should not be discarded,” said Francisco Caetano Jose Madeira said, who is in charge of counter-terrorism cooperation for the AU, said in Abuja.

Officials from Sahel states in a meeting also attended by Nigeria in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott vowed to help each other fight al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram, amid growing speculation the two have ties.

Mali’s Foreign Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said there was a “confirmed link” between AQIM and Boko Haram.

Amnesty International urged Nigeria to do more to protect its citizens from Boko Haram attacks.

President Goodluck Jonathan vowed to beef up security as he grapples with the worst crises of his nine-month tenure – a surge in Boko Haram attacks and mounting social discontent.

A purported spokesman for Boko Haram said the attacks were in response to a refusal by the authorities to release arrested members of the group from custody.

Iran says false US plot claim aims to divide

Iran has angrily denied US accusations that it plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador, saying Washington was mounting an offensive to try to sow discord between Tehran and its Arab neighbours.

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Officials in Tehran called the allegations, made on Tuesday by the FBI and the US Justice Department, a “prefabricated scenario” and “stupid mischief” meant to divert attention from US woes at home and in the Middle East.

Washington’s accusation in turn drew one from Iran that Israel, with US support, was behind the killings of at least two of its nuclear scientists in the past two years.

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a press advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told AFP late on Tuesday: “This is a prefabricated scenario to turn public attention away from domestic problems within the United States.”

He added that “the US government and the CIA have a lot of experience in diverting public attention from domestic problems in the United States.”

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, sent a letter to UN leader Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council strongly condemning “this shameful allegation” which he said was “a well-thought evil plot” by Washington.

He also accused Israel, with US backing, of carrying out the murders of Iranian nuclear scientists.

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry called the US accusation “false” and “a ridiculous scenario that aims to create divisions by enemies of Islam and of the region.”

The speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, said on Wednesday that the allegations were a “childish game” and “stupid mischief,” maybe meant to isolate Iran from its Arab neighbours.

The Americans “want to divert attention from the problems in the region,” he said, according to the Mehr news agency and other Iranian media.

“Maybe they are seeking to create an artificial crisis and problems among regional countries,” he said.

The US authorities said two Iranians — one also holding US citizenship — were part of a plot “conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran” and involving Iranian government factions, to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir in a bomb attack.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said “the United States is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions” in the alleged plot.

The United States and Iran have been foes for more than 30 years, ever since Islamic students took US diplomats hostage in their embassy in Tehran after Iran’s revolution.

The United States has already imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, on top of ones agreed by the United Nations, to pressure it to halt its nuclear energy programme that Washington fears is being used to build atomic weapons, despite Tehran’s repeated denial.

Saudi Arabia, the United States’ key ally in the Middle East along with Israel, has frosty ties with Iran, a fellow OPEC member which it sees as attempting to become a regional superpower.

Iran has criticised Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia this year for lending military forces to Bahrain to help the tiny Gulf kingdom’s Sunni regime put down pro-democracy protests by members of the Shiite majority.

Saudi Arabia early this month accused Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, of having a hand in clashes between Shiite protesters and security forces in its Eastern Province.

Egypt to withdraw envoy to Israel

Egypt has decided to withdraw its ambassador from Israel to protest the deaths of five policemen killed on the border during retaliatory attacks on Palestinian militants, state television said Saturday.

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“Egypt has decided to withdraw its ambassador to Israel until there is an official apology,” it said.

The Egyptian government had asked “for an official apology from Israel” at the end of a crisis meeting overnight, the state-run MENA news agency reported in a statement.

Information Minister Osama Heykal was quoted as saying by MENA that five policemen were killed “inside Egyptian territory as a result of an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and armed elements inside Israeli territory.”

It is the second time that Egypt, the first Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, recalls its ambassador from the Jewish state.

In November 2000 Egypt recalled its envoy from Israel to protest over what it said was “the excessive use of force by Israel against the Palestinians after the second intifada,” Palestinian uprising.

Egypt’s military chief of staff, Sami Enan, headed to the Sinai on Friday to probe the deaths of the policemen killed a day earlier.

There have been conflicting reports from the Egyptian military and police about how they lost their lives.

A military official told Egypt’s official MENA news agency on Thursday that they were killed by stray Israeli helicopter fire aimed at the fleeing gunmen.

But on Friday, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper quoted a military official as saying the policemen were killed by gunmen trying to slip in from Israel.

Enan’s visit was announced shortly after another policeman was declared dead following a border gunfight on Friday, which left one of his comrades gravely wounded with a bullet in the head.

Earlier, Israeli security sources told AFP they had information that a man had blown himself up on the Egyptian side of the border, saying they believed he was one of the men on the run.

Friday night hundreds of people demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and denouncing the Jewish state for the attacks.

“Sinai, Sinai,” the crowds shouted in reference to the Sinai peninsula where the Egyptian policemen were killed and “Down with Israel. The people want the ambassador out and the Israeli flag down.”

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has said in a message published on his Facebook page: “Egyptian blood is too precious to be spilled for no reason.”

“Our glorious revolution took place so that Egyptians could regain their dignity at home and abroad. What was tolerated in pre-revolution Egypt will not be in post-revolution Egypt,” he said.

Norway killer’s actions ‘pure evil’

As Norwegian police prepared to question Anders Behring Breivik again today, the killer’s British ‘mentor’ denounced the Norwegian’s actions as ‘pure evil.

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Behring Breivik will be questioned again on Friday after new information emerged relating to his killing spree, as prosecutors warned he would not go on trial before 2012.

This will be the second time that police interrogate the far-right extremist since Saturday, the morning after his shooting rampage on Utoeya island and the bomb blast in downtown Oslo that killed 76 people altogether.

Police official Paal-Fredrik Hjort Kraby said officers will question Behring Breivik on “information received over the last few days — which is a lot,” although he did not elaborate.

European counter-terrorism experts met in Brussels to look at lessons that can be drawn from the attacks, and an Oslo gun club said Behring Breivik had been a member since 2005.

INDICTMENT WON’T BE READY THIS YEAR

But as the depth and complexity of the investigation spread, the country’s highest legal officer said it would take time to sift through the evidence.

“We hope that we can conduct the court trial in the course of next year,” the Norwegian king’s prosecutor general Tor Aksel Buschhe said, adding that Behring Breivik’s indictment “will not be ready before the end of the year.

The possibility that the killer had been working with other people was receding, officials said, despite an international intelligence probe.

The possibility “has become weaker over time,” police spokesman Henning Holtaas told AFP, although “we are checking all his communications.”

He would not confirm that Behring Breivik was carrying a walkie-talkie radio on Utoeya island, where he shot dead 68 mostly young people, but two witnesses have said he was.

“He was dressed like a policeman. He had all the equipment — the walkie-talkie, the arms, everything,” 15-year-old survivor Jo Granli Kallset told AFP.

Locals have speculated that the device may have been nothing but a prop in his policeman’s disguise.

Behring Breivik boasted before the attack in a 1,500-page manifesto that he was one of up to 80 “solo martyr cells” recruited across western Europe to topple governments tolerant of Islam.

Norway’s intelligence service has been liaising with counterparts in Europe and the United States but has found nothing to verify the gunman’s claims of active cells forming a terror “organisation”.

Norway’s intelligence services chief Janne Kristiansen told AFP the possibility the killer had acted as a “lone wolf” could make it more difficult for police to uncover his trail.

“He has done this very carefully and meticulously and so far he has succeeded in avoiding any radar, or radar of the secret services.”

‘STRONGER COUNTER-TERRORISM ACTION NEEDED’

European Union terrorism experts meeting in Brussels warned that the bloodbath in Norway, which they said was almost “impossible to prevent”, underlined the need for stronger European counter-terrorism action.

And in Poland, foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski asked the prosecution to pursue authors of hate speech, saying the Norway carnage clearly illustrated the dangers.

The events “show that the line between words and actions is sometimes very fine,” he said in a letter cited by the PAP news agency.

“One can clearly see that hate speech can lead directly to an unimaginable tragedy.”

Police are still searching the waters around Utoeya and the bombing site in downtown Oslo for missing persons, although they said Thursday that the land search on the island had ended.

Officials did not revise their tolls from the two attacks. Eight people died in an initial car bomb blast in central Oslo.

Norwegian police on Thursday released the identities of 24 more people, aged between 14 and 30, all but one of whom were killed on Utoeya island.

The list included one Georgian, and brought the total number of confirmed dead whose names have been made public to 41.

Survivor Emma Martinovic recounted in a blog that: “I heard the bastard laugh, I heard him shout ‘you won’t get away’.”

The 18-year-old continued: “All of a sudden, we saw everybody running, nobody said anything but everybody ran. I grabbed Aase (a friend) and told her: ‘run’, and everybody started shouting: ‘run! run!’.”

The teenager describes jumping in the water and swimming away from the island as friends were mowed down around her, before finally reaching a boat with other survivors on board.

Testimonials started emerging Thursday of a lost generation of future Norwegian political leaders brutally cut down.

These included Anders Kristiansen, an 18-year-old whose mother said he “dreamed of becoming prime minister since the age of five,” and whose shining talent was lauded by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere in the national press.

‘MENTOR’ SLAMS ATTACKS AS ‘PURE EVIL’

A British man cited by gunman Anders Behring Breivik as his “mentor” denounced the Norwegian’s actions as “pure evil” and “did not equate to anything I am involved in.”

Speaking to The Times newspaper, Paul Ray admitted he may have been the inspiration behind Behring Breivik’s massacre of 76 people, but said he had rejected the attacker’s Facebook friend request because he “didn’t like the look of him”.

Ray, 35, is the leader of a Knights Templar movement inspired by the actions of medieval crusaders against Islam and runs a “Richard the Lionhearted” blog which is believed to have underpinned Behring Breivik’s 1,500 page online manifesto.

“I am being implicated as his mentor,” said Ray, who left Britain for Malta in 2008 after he was arrested for allegedly inciting racial hatred on his blogsite.

“I definitely could have been his inspiration,” he conceded. “He has given me a platform and a profile but what he did was pure evil. I could never use what he has done to further my own beliefs.”

Behring Breivik posted pictures of himself dressed in the Knights Templar uniform and described a man similar to Ray as his “mentor” after he claimed to have met him at an event in 2008.

Ray is a former activist for the English Defence League (EDL), which campaigns against Islamic extremism in Britain.

The group denied in a statement late Sunday that it had any “official contact” with the 32-year-old mass murderer despite Behring Breivik’s claims that he had been in touch with them.

“We can categorically state that there has never been any official contact between him and the EDL, our Facebook page had 100,000 supporters and receives tens of thousands of comments each day,” it said in a statement.

“And there is no evidence that Breivik was ever one of those 100,000 supporters.”

It claimed the Norwegian had in fact talked about the EDL in a negative light, saying: “It couldn’t be made any clearer that Breivik did not like the way that EDL was a peaceful organisation.”

NATO bombs won’t get me: Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi said Friday he is in a place where NATO bombs cannot reach him, after his government spokesman denied suggestions that the Libyan leader was wounded and on the run.

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“I want to say to the Crusader cowards that I live in a place where I cannot be reached or killed; I live in the hearts of millions,” Gaddafi said in an audio message broadcast on state television.

He referred to an early-Thursday strike on his Bab al-Aziziya compound that “led to the martyrdom of three civilians, journalists,” meaning the recording, the authenticity of which could not be verified, was made since then.

And he thanked heads of state who had asked about his health after the NATO air strike.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini had said earlier that Gaddafi may be on the run and wounded.

Frattini’s remarks, based on a comments he said were made to him by Giovanni Martinelli, the Roman Catholic bishop of Tripoli, came as rebel leader Mahmud Jibril was headed for the White House to press for US recognition and aid.

Frattini had earlier told Corriere della Sera daily: “I am of the view that (Gaddafi) has probably fled from Tripoli but not from the country.”

But Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told journalists in the capital that “the leader is in very good health, high morale, high spirits,” and “he is in Tripoli.”

Frattini had also said international pressure was causing “the disintegration of the regime from the inside, which is what we wanted.”

He added that arms depots had been raided by rebels on the outskirts of Tripoli in the past few hours.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim told the news conference in Tripoli that a NATO air strike had killed 11 imams who had gathered in Brega, putting the number of wounded people at 50, including five in critical condition.

A spokesman in Brussels said the Western military alliance had no information on the veracity of the claim.

At the news conference, an imam identified as Nureddin al-Mijrah called for “Muslims all around the world” to kill 1,000 people for each of the dead imams, naming acceptable targets as “France, Italy, Denmark, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”

With rebel forces claiming to be only 10 kilometres (six miles) from Zliten, their next main military target on the road to Tripoli, insurgent leader Mahmud Jibril, who handles foreign affairs for the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC), was to hold talks with US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet Jibril in Paris on Saturday to discuss the conflict and prospects for transition, the French presidency said.

Officials would not say whether President Barack Obama would drop by the Friday meeting, a practice sometimes used with guests for whom protocol does not dictate an official meeting.

The Libyan opposition, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, wants Washington to recognise the body as “the sole legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people,” he said.

Unlike France, Gambia, Italy and Qatar, the United States has not recognised the NTC. Jibril told CNN he believed Jordan would also recognise the opposition in the coming days.

“All we need is for the world to understand our cause and help us get our legitimate rights realised,” he said.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney signalled that Washington was not ready to grant full status to the NTC.

“If the question is recognising the (NTC) as the official government of Libya, I think that’s premature,” he said.

Jibril warned earlier that the council was facing a “very acute financial problem” and needed help from the US administration.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said regime assets frozen in the United States — some $30 billion (20 billion euros) — would be used to help the Libyan people.

Jibril’s visit comes as the Obama administration gradually steps up contacts with Gaddafi’s opposition to better understand the movement before deciding on the extent of US assistance.

In The Hague, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that on Monday he will seek arrest warrants for three people considered most responsible for crimes against humanity in Libya.

His office said it would reveal the three names, with diplomats saying Gaddafi is likely to top the list.

“The judges may decide to accept the application, to reject it or to ask the office for additional information,” a statement said.

Last week, Moreno-Ocampo said Gaddafi’s regime was murdering and persecuting civilians in widespread and systematic attacks.

He said he was also investigating the deaths of dozens of sub-Saharan Africans in the rebel bastion of Benghazi by an “angry mob” who believed they were mercenaries in Gaddafi’s pay.

In Geneva, the UN refugee agency said it feared that up to 1,200 people fleeing Libya had died in the Mediterranean Sea so far and that it had found evidence that a military vessel refused to rescue one boat.

“There are about 12,000 people who have arrived in Italy or Malta and we believe that as many as 1,200 people are dead or have gone missing,” said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

A migrant told the UNHCR that unidentified military vessels off the Libyan coast refused or failed to pick up a boat carrying 72 people, most of whom subsequently died of exhaustion, thirst or starvation in late March or early April.

Meanwhile, NATO said its air offensive around key Libyan cities has significantly affected Gaddafi’s forces, halting the shelling of Misrata in the previous 24 hours.

“The situation on the ground remains dynamic with significant changes,” Wing Commander Mike Bracken said at NATO operational headquarters in Naples, Italy.

“Just in the past 72 hours, our strikes in Tripoli, around Sirte and the port town of Misrata have significantly impacted the command and control capability of the Gaddafi regime, his supplies of ammunition and weapons, and his ability to launch attacks,” Bracken said.