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FBI follows money in California shooting

Investigators believe San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook may have been plotting an earlier attack in California with someone else, CNN reports, citing two US officials.

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One of the officials told CNN on Tuesday the two conspired in 2012 and a specific target was considered. Neither of the officials could say how serious the plotting got, CNN said.

One official said the two decided not to go through with the earlier attack after a round of terror-related arrests in the area, CNN reported. “They got spooked,” the official said.

CNN did not give the name of the other plotter.

Meanwhile the FBI is investigating a loan of about $US28,000 ($A38,850) given to Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik by an online lender and the man who supplied the guns to the couple.

The money was deposited into their bank account about two weeks before the attack, sources said on Tuesday.

Disclosure of the unsecured loan Farook, 28, took out from San Francisco-based Prosper, a peer-to-peer lending service, offered a new glimpse into the money trail under scrutiny by investigators of last week’s mass shooting.

Investigations into assaults branded as acts of terrorism often focus on the money behind them and US government officials said the FBI’s examination of the couple’s finances has not linked them with any foreign group.

Still, one government source told Reuters that Farook and Malik apparently followed a pattern set by other militants who drained their bank accounts and exhausted credit lines before embarking on what they believed would be a suicide mission.

Fox News first reported on Monday that a deposit of $US28,500 was made into Farook’s bank account from WebBank杭州桑拿会所, on November 18, and that Farook converted $US10,000 into cash, which he withdrew from a Union Bank branch in San Bernardino around November 20.

Fox also reported at least three $US5000 transfers were made in the days before the shooting, apparently to Farook’s mother.

In addition to the pair of assault-style rifles and semi-automatic handguns the couple carried on the day of the killings, they were found to have amassed thousands of rounds of ammunition, along with explosives and other materials for making as many as 19 pipe bombs, according to the FBI.

Enrique Marquez, a onetime friend and relative by marriage of Farook, was questioned on Tuesday by US officials who said he had purchased the two assault rifles used in the attack, according to a federal law enforcement official.

Marquez was married last year to Mariya Chernykh, whose sister is the wife of Raheel Farook, the shooter’s brother.

The family connection, revealed in marriage documents seen by Reuters, adds another element to the relationship between Farook and Marquez.

The FBI has described Farook, the US-born son of Pakistani immigrants, and his Pakistani-born wife Malik, 29, as a couple “radicalised” by Islamic extremist ideology.

Malik, who spent a good portion of her life in Saudi Arabia and married Farook there before returning with him to California in the (northern) summer of 2014, is believed by investigators to have pledged allegiance on Facebook to the leader of the militant group Islamic State just before the killings.

Malik’s extremist views took form before she came to the US, but it remains to be seen whether she and her husband were indoctrinated by other individuals or whether they turned to radical ideology on their own, the FBI has said.

Authorities say the heavily armed couple opened fire on Farook’s co-workers from the county Environmental Health Department during a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center social services agency in San Bernardino, about 100km east of Los Angeles.

Fourteen people were killed and 21 others were wounded in the assault. The couple died several hours later in a shootout with police.

Australia bring in Pattinson for Windies opener

Starc will miss the series after sustaining an ankle injury during the recent 2-0 win over New Zealand, further depleting Australia’s pace bowling stocks after the retirements of Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris.

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Injuries have restricted Pattinson to 13 tests in the four years since his debut but he has taken three five-wicket hauls in that time, including 5-51 against New Zealand at Hobart in 2011.

The 25-year-old right-armer was a surprise call-up to the squad for the day-night test in Adelaide but missed out when Siddle was preferred.

His Victoria coach David Saker questioned whether Pattinson’s body was up to the rigours of test cricket after playing so little since returning from his latest back problem, but Smith was not concerned.

“I think he has played enough, he has been bowling really well, he deserves an opportunity,” Smith said.

“I think he just needs to go out there and do what he does well — that’s bowl fast, swing the ball and get it up there and get it moving

“He is similar to Hazlewood the way he bowls. Hopefully he can have a successful comeback into the test team.”

Uncapped Coulter-Nile’s best hopes of a spot in the side for Hobart had rested on Hazlewood being given a break after playing all three tests against New Zealand.

The 24-year-old Hazlewood said on Tuesday he wanted to play all three tests in the series, however, and selectors have given him a chance to lead the pace attack in the absence of Starc.

Smith also confirmed that all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who struggled for runs against New Zealand, would remain at number six in the batting order ahead of wicketkeeper Peter Nevill.

“He’s there to do a job, to score runs for the team,” Smith said. “Hopefully he’ll come out and play his natural game and get a few runs for us this time.”

Team: Steve Smith (captain), David Warner, Joe Burns, Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford/John O’Brien)

Australian police raid Sydney home of reported bitcoin creator

The property is registered under the Australian electoral role to Craig Steven Wright, whom Wired outed as the likely real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous figure that first released bitcoin’s code in 2009.

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More than a dozen federal police officers entered the house, on Sydney’s north shore, on Wednesday after locksmiths broke open the door. When asked what they were doing, one officer told a Reuters reporter that they were “clearing the house”.

The Australian Federal Police said in a statement that the officers’ “presence at Mr. Wright’s property is not associated with the media reporting overnight about bitcoins”.

The AFP referred all inquiries about the raid to the Australian Tax Office, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The police raid in Australia came hours after Wired magazine and technology website Gizmodo published articles saying that their investigations showed Wright, who they said was an Australian academic, was probably the secretive bitcoin creator.

Their investigations were based on leaked emails, documents and web archives, including what was said to be a transcript of a meeting between Wright and Australian tax officials.

The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has long been a mystery journalists and bitcoin enthusiasts have tried to unravel.

He, she or a group of people is the author of the paper, protocol and software that gave rise to the cryptocurrency. The New York Times, Newsweek and other publications have guessed at Nakamoto’s real identity, but none has proved conclusive.

Uncovering the identity would be significant, not just to solving a long-standing riddle, but for the future of the currency.

And as an early miner of bitcoins, Nakamoto is also sitting on about 1 million bitcoins, worth more than $400 million at present exchange rates, according to bitcoin expert Sergio Demian Lerner.

Finnigan has conviction recorded in SA

Disgraced former South Australian MP Bernard Finnigan, now a “frightened and socially isolated man”, has had a conviction recorded but has escaped an immediate jail term for a child porn offence.

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District Court Judge Steven Millsteed recorded the conviction on Wednesday, rejecting defence submissions not to do so.

He also imposed a 15-month jail term but suspended the sentence, instead placing Finnigan on a three-year good behaviour bond after finding him guilty last month on one count of accessing child pornography.

The judge said Finnigan’s offending was not an isolated or impulsive act and warranted public condemnation.

However, he said some people had stooped to criminal behaviour in venting their anger with the former Labor MP and state government minister subject to death threats and having his house vandalised.

“You have become a frightened and socially isolated man,” Judge Millsteed said.

On Christmas Eve 2010, Finnigan used a number of search terms associated with child pornography to access a serious of internet pages.

He viewed some or all of the content with many of images of girls who appeared to be in their early teens. Some appeared to be aged under 12.

Judge Millsteed said Finnigan’s offending was at the lower end of the scale but remained a serious breach of the law.

Child pornography “encouraged the vile degradation and sexual exploitation of children”, he said.

The judge said Finnigan had also admitted to an addiction with adult pornography and had shown no remorse or contrition for his offending.

And because the court had not been provided with any psychological of psychiatric assessments, it was impossible to make an assessment of the risk of the 42-year-old offending again.

Before his arrest Finnigan had worked as a senior union official and entered parliament’s upper house in 2006, filling a casual vacancy.

He was elevated to Labor government ministry in 2011 in the industrial relations portfolio but resigned less than two months later after being arrested.

He was expelled from the Labor Party soon after but continued to sit in parliament as an independent.

Finnigan quit the parliament two days after the guilty verdict was handed down and Judge Millsteed said his future employment prospects were bleak.

As a convicted offender his name will also be included on the child sex offender’s register.

Finnigan offered no comment outside court.

An earlier statement said he was considering an appeal but there has been no word on whether one will proceed.

Former friend and Labor factional ally, Health Minister Jack Snelling, declined to offer an opinion on whether or not Finnigan should have gone to jail.

Mr Snelling said sentencing was “entirely a matter for the courts”.

The minister said the question of whether or not Finnigan should be forced to pay back some of the wages he received as an MP while the case proceeded through the courts was not a matter he had given much thought to.

“I don’t know how practical or possible that would be,” he said.

Hodge tells AFL Lions: stick together

A casual conversation with three-time Hawthorn premiership captain Luke Hodge during the International Rules tour has left Brisbane skipper Tom Rockliff convinced most of their next AFL premiership team is already together.

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All there is left to do, Rockliff says, is “sell the message” to the squad and work hard for long enough to make it happen.

“We were just talking about where Hawthorn were at, where Brisbane were at, sitting on the bus one night,” Rockliff said.

“(Hodge) said it’s important we keep our group together. We’ve got to sell that message, that if we stay together we can build something special up here.

“I’ve played for seven, eight years now and I’ve never played a finals game and that stings most out of anything.

“I’d hand back my All Australian, my B and Fs (best and fairest awards) to taste that finals footy and play footy in September.”

It’s a familiar pre-season refrain from the luckless Lions, who have been in what feels like a perpetual cycle of mediocrity: frustrated by a lack of success, top players agitate to leave, the club is forced to rebuild, rinse and repeat.

But this is the season Rockliff says Brisbane will break free and get it right.

James Aish, Jack Redden and Matthew Leuenberger are gone, but highly-rated academy products Eric Hipwood and Ben Keays are in, as is No.2 draft pick Josh Schache, the heir apparent to Jonathan Brown’s throne and whose late father used to play for the Bears.

Pearce Hanley, Stefan Martin and Mitch Robinson are among those to have pledged their future to the club.

All want to be Lions for life.

“Especially when blokes want to leave the footy club as well, it gets microscoped now because of a few years ago when we had those retention issues,” Rockliff said.

“You’re probably going to have one or two slip through the cracks, but it’s the ones that re-sign – I think we’ve had 25, 26 recommit over the last two, three years to the footy club.”

Rockliff said it was hard to predict what a pass mark for 2016 would be, other than simply continued improvement.

Pressure to post wins is mounting, as the Lions exist in one of the country’s toughest sporting markets and one that tends to only jump on the AFL bandwagon when they’re winning.

“We’ve got younger but that’s not an excuse either, we’ve got to hold each other accountable a lot more,” Rockliff said.

“As you’ve seen last year a lot of people would have written Western Bulldogs off but they ended up finishing sixth and playing finals footy.”

Investor home loan appetite plunges

The steam is clearly coming out of the housing market, thanks to a sharp decline in the level of investor lending.

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Loans approved for investment housing were down 6.1 per cent in October, based on their value, while approvals for owner-occupied housing rose 0.4 per cent.

The total number of home loans approved in October fell by a better-than-expected 0.5 per cent, while the value of total housing finance was down two per cent in the month.

Macquarie Group head of Australian economics James McIntyre said the value of loans that’s been approved to investors is now the weakest since June 2014.

“There’s been a really big swing in investor participation in the market, particularly since it peaked in April this year,” he said.

“In just three months it’s down close to 15 per cent.”

Commonwealth Bank of Australia chief economist Michael Blythe said the tighter regulations the Reserve Bank and the lending watchdog have been pursuing during the past 12 months are working.

In late 2014, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority tightened rules for investor loans with the aim of cracking down on risky loans.

“There’s the lift in lending rates to investors of course, and you’re also seeing some signs of a natural slowdown coming through as well,” Mr Blythe said.

However, RBC Capital Markets fixed income and currency strategist Michael Turner has warned that housing finance and credit data have been prone to large revisions in recent months.

“The new price incentive for mortgage holders to classify loans as owner occupier, not investor, are muddying the water,” he said.

Mr McIntyre said current auction clearance rates and easing house price growth indicates the slowing momentum is continuing into the end of the year.

“We’re (also) yet to see what impact there may have been from the additional rate hikes that were passed through in November,” he said.

“So there’s likely to be some further weakness on the investor front.”

Mr McIntyre said a combination of weaker population growth and a mammoth supply pipeline means the housing market is likely to undergo further cooling through the course of 2016 and not bottom out until 2017.

Hiku on the move to foot of the mountains

Manly are expected to announce the signing of Dylan Walker in the coming days after releasing Peta Hiku to Penrith.

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New Zealand international Hiku signed a three-year deal, filling the void left at the foot of the mountains by the departure of Jamal Idris.

The 23-year-old was granted a release from the final two years of his Sea Eagles contract to take up a deal reportedly worth more than $1 million.

Hiku had attracted interest from Parramatta and St George Illawarra but was lured to Penrith because of their willingness to offer him a three-year deal.

He is a strong addition to the Panthers backline also featuring Matt Moylan, Dean Whare, Josh Mansour and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak with general manager Phil Gould saying the club was fortunate to snare him at such a late stage in the year.

“He will perfectly complement the emerging young players we have here at Panthers,” Gould said.

“The fact that Peta, at a young age, has forced his way into that tremendous Manly backline and has performed so well on the international stage for the Kiwis is indicative of his tremendous ability.

“At 23 years of age, he obviously has the best of his career in front of him and we are excited he is going to be a Panther for the next three years.”

Despite having a strong 2015, Hiku was told he was unwanted under new coach Manly coach Trent Barrett, who has overhauled the club’s playing roster, bringing in Nate Myles, Martin Taupau, Lewis Brown, Darcy Lussick and Api Koroisau.

Hiku is a versatile addition to the Panthers backline having played at centre and wing for the Sea Eagles this year and at five-eighth for the Kiwis on their end-of-season tour of England.

“Peta has been a consistent performer at NRL level for the Sea Eagles over a number of seasons and has also represented his country with distinction,” Manly chief executive Joe Kelly said.

“He is a wonderful young man and has a very bright NRL career ahead of him.”

The NRL off-season musical chairs is expected to continue in the coming days with Walker, who was granted a release by South Sydney following the prescription drugs scandal, expected to announce his shift to Manly.

Fellow three-quarters James Roberts and Tim Lafai are still on the open market.

Roberts knocked back a contract extension from the Gold Coast – in the wake of the contract forgery saga – and is being targeted by Brisbane and former club South Sydney.

Lafai departed Canterbury to make way for Will Hopoate and has been linked with Gold Coast, St George Illawarra and Warriors.

Lewis happy to lead Hawks in AFL

Jordan Lewis is ready to captain AFL premiers Hawthorn, provided Luke Hodge decides it’s time to step aside.

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There is speculation that Lewis will take over next season from Hodge, who is widely respected as the sport’s best skipper.

Hodge has been the on-field leader for their premiership three-peat and, while he was busted for drink driving during the finals, he retains a lofty status in the game.

Hawthorn will most likely decide next month whether to make the change.

“There’s obviously a lot of water to go under the bridge,” Lewis said.

“When the time is right, Hodgey will understand that he’s not going to be around forever.

“So if he feels the need … to pass that on, whether it’s this year or next year, there’s probably a handful of guys waiting in the wings that could honestly stand up and lead this team really well.”

Lewis turns 30 next year, making him two years younger than Hodge.

“Hodgey is obviously the leader and has been a great leader for so long, so why tip him out when he’s at the top of his game?,” he said.

“He will do it if he wants to do it – if he doesn’t, then someone else will have to step up and fill that role.”

Lewis made it clear he is ready for the role and said given Hawthorn’s strength, it would be a straightforward succession.

“It would sit comfortably, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“I’ve been around for 12 years now, I’m experienced.

“You don’t have to really control this group like some of the other clubs – we have a pretty disciplined group.

“And it’s quite an easy side to lead.”

Lewis’ standing at the club was highlighted on Wednesday when new sponsor Audi announced him as their latest ambassador.

The hard-nosed onballer is the odd man out in a group that includes celebrities such as Hugh Jackman and Collette Dinnigan.

“I’m a little bit embarrassed, but you take what comes your way,” he said.

“I remember when I first arrived at the club, I had a Holden that broke down after two weeks – that was a major disaster.”

Tigers destroyed in Shield by WA gun Paris

One year ago, West Australian paceman Joel Paris couldn’t even pick up a pair of socks without getting injured.

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Now, the 22-year-old paceman is being touted as a future Test prospect after playing a match-winning role in WA’s nine-wicket triumph over Tasmania at the WACA Ground.

Paris, playing just his second Sheffield Shield match, snared 6-23 to dismiss Tasmania for 205 in their second innings.

It left WA needing just 52 runs to win, and they achieved their target with ease courtesy of Cameron Bancroft (32no) and Jonathan Wells (18no).

But the day well and truly belonged to Paris.

Tasmania resumed play on day four at 5-184, with the visitors requiring a big knock to add significant runs to their overnight lead of 30.

But the Tigers’ victory hopes were in tatters when Paris dismissed Tom Triffitt (13) and Xavier Doherty (0) before a run had been added to the overnight score.

Paris then removed dangerman James Faulkner for 40, and he had wicket No.6 when Jackson Bird skied him to fine leg.

Cricket fans had a taste of Paris’ potential during last summer’s domestic one-day cup, when he snared 13 wickets at an average of 12.92 to spearhead WA’s title-winning campaign.

But a torn quad suffered in the final ended up grounding Paris for the rest of the summer.

So fragile was his quad at the time, Paris even re-injured it while picking up a pair of socks.

“I rang the physio after I did it, and we had a bit of a chuckle about it,” Paris said on Wednesday.

“It didn’t take much for it to re-tear. And that was the problem. It wasn’t fully re-tearing – it was just little tears here and there that kept me out of the game.

“It wasn’t a great situation to be in, but we tried to see some positives out of it, and that was to build some strength up and have a good crack this year.”

Paris snared six wickets in his Shield debut against Victoria last month, and his game haul of eight wickets against Tasmania showcased his match-winning abilities.

WA coach Justin Langer said a Test career beckoned for Paris if he could stay fit.

“We know he’s a real talent,” Langer said.

“When you get six-for, you straight away put your name up, don’t you?”

Tasmanian skipper and former Test batsman George Bailey was also impressed by the emerging paceman.

“He’s tall with good pace and swings it, which is three pretty key ingredients,” Bailey said.

“I spent a little bit of time with him in Brisbane at the cricket academy, and was really impressed by his work ethic and character.”

No Test pitch monster in Hobart: curator

No “green eyed monster” lies in wait for the wounded West Indies in the first Test against Australia – just plenty of runs, Hobart curator Marcus Pamplin says.

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Despite the Bellerive Oval deck still boasting a distinct green tinge on Test eve, Pamplin played down talk that batsmen would be treading on a minefield.

Asked if speculation over a raging green top had been blown out of proportion, Pamplin said: “I think so.

“I think the ball will come right through to the batsmen.

“It will be pretty tough for the first session but then it will be a nice batting track.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they bat first whoever wins the toss.”

Pamplin said he had prepared the same wicket in which Test keeper Peter Nevill stroked an unbeaten 235 for NSW in February in their Sheffield Shield win by an innings over Tasmania.

He said the last Shield clash in Hobart barely a fortnight ago would also provide a clue to what to expect this week.

In that match, Tasmania lost the toss and sent South Australia in – the Redbacks were 3-441 by stumps on the first day on their way to a 302-run win.

“It’s very similar to pitches in Shield games. I reckon the Shield games have been a tad greener,” Pamplin said.

“I reckon we’ve had the most centuries here in Shield cricket and we’ve all had results too (this season).

“It just goes to show the ball is really coming on to the bat, with a lot of range for shots, and the outfield is really quick.”

In the last Tasmania-SA Shield clash, neither side picked spinners.

But Pamplin predicted Australian offie Nathan Lyon – celebrating his 50th Test – would still be a factor at Hobart against the Windies.

“We used this pitch last season against NSW and Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe took a lot of wickets in the second innings,” he said of Lyon (4-75 match figures) and O’Keefe (3-45).

“And to prove there was still a lot of pace in it, Doug Bollinger (7-94 match figures) got wickets as well.

“And there was a lot of runs scored – I think Peter Nevill scored 230 (sic).”

Pamplin said he had not felt pressure to produce a result wicket to ensure interest in a Hobart Test.

“Not really. We are just trying to produce the best wicket we can and hopefully it goes four, five days,” he said.

Canberra is believed to be poised to replace Hobart as a Test venue if the Windies clash attracts poor crowds.

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