London: Before he carried out the attacks that killed scores of people in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik wrote of his allegiance to the Knights Templar, which he described as a secret society created to carry out a crusade against Islam in Europe.
While law enforcement agencies said they had never heard of the group, a man named Paul Ray, who writes an anti-Muslim blog called "Lionheart”, has said that it indeed exists and he was one of the founders.
But he denies any contact with Breivik and is instead condemning his actions — if not his ideals.
In a 1,500-page manifesto, Breivik claimed the new group was created at a meeting in London in 2002 and said his mentor was a man called "Richard (the Lionhearted)”.
He did not give Richard`s real name, but members of a right-wing English group identified him as Ray.
Ray, who now lives in Malta, confirmed the existence of a loose group of anti-Islamic extremists inspired by the Knights Templar, a Crusader-era fighting force known for battling Islam. But he said Breivik is not associated with it.
And while he says he shares his anti-Muslim views, he doesn`t know Breivik and is not the mentor cited in his rambling manifesto.
"My thoughts are the same ... that there is a threat to our way of life from Islam. I`m not going to say I don`t think there is, because I do," Ray said.
The 35-year-old Briton often espouses views similar to Breivik`s on his anti-Muslim blog, whose title is a reference to King Richard I of England, who led Christian crusades in the 12th century and was known as Richard the Lionheart.
And Ray does have several similarities with the "mentor" in the Norwegian killer`s manifesto, chiefly that the anti-Muslim group he leads is called The Ancient Order of the Templar Knights.
But Ray suggested the group had no formal structure, and he refused to name any members or indicate how many it has.
"It`s an idea," Ray said. "It`s not like it`s a massive organisation. It`s a belief."
Breivik, 32, claims he committed Friday`s massacre as the order`s first blow in an apocalyptic war against Muslims, immigrants and leftists to prevent what he believes is an Islamic attempt to take over Western Europe.
Ray denied he approved of Breivik`s methods, which include killing innocents to draw attention to his philosophy.
"Being implicated in this, I just want the truth to come out and it proven that I`m nothing whatever to do with this," said Ray, who was born Paul Sonato but took his mother`s maiden name.
Ray said Breivik appeared to have taken some of his ideas and used them as justification for his killing spree. "This is getting bad. It`s really pointing at us. All these things he`s been talking about are linked to us," he said. "It`s like he`s created this whole thing around us."
An alleged connection between Ray and the "mentor" cited by Breivik was first disclosed to the AP by Stephen Lennon, the leader of a far-right group in the UK, the English Defence League. Ray, who broke away from the group several years ago, adamantly denies any such connection.
A European intelligence official said on Thursday that investigators were beginning to doubt the existence of a single mentor, at least in the way Breivik describes him in his writings, and now believe Breivik may have had several people in mind. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Ray said his group was set up in response to "Muslims in (England) trying to take over our country. Let`s not pretend it`s not happening. They are actively declaring their vision to take our country over."
"Me being a Christian, I do look towards the Templars throughout history and how they`ve defended us from the jihad," he said.
The medieval-era Knights Templar was a Christian military order founded in the early 12th century whose members, wearing white mantles with a red cross, became one of the most formidable fighting forces of the Crusades. It was dissolved in 1312.
The modern Knights Templar have widespread company across Europe in their Islam-bashing beliefs. France`s National Front, Austria`s Freedom Party, Finland`s True Finns, Holland`s Party of Freedom have all caused alarm with a xenophobic message that has been attracting growing support in mainstream society.
Ray said he fled England two years ago after being arrested for stirring up racial hatred, and settled in Malta — an island where a different group of Crusaders, the Knights Hospitalier, withstood a three-year Ottoman siege in the 16th century. That history is still very much bound up in Malta`s identity and landscape.
In a video, Ray is seen walking around Malta`s walled medieval town of Mdina with a friend, both wearing white hooded sweat shirts bearing the logo AOKT — Ancient Order of Knights Templar — and the red cross commonly used by the original religious group in the Middle Ages.
"It`s a historic fact when we look back to the Knights, they all travelled to the Holy Land," Ray said. "We don`t have to travel to the Holy Land to protect Christianity because Christianity is under attack in our own countries."