Continued from page 1

The asylum bid took many Assange supporters by surprise — including some of those who put up a total of 200,000 pounds ($315,000) to guarantee his bail.

Vaughan Smith, the former journalist who let Mr. Assange stay at his rural English home for more than a year as part of his bail terms, said the news “came as surprise to me.”

Mr. Smith said he stood to lose his 20,000 pound surety, but he defended Mr. Assange nonetheless.

“This is money my family needs,” Mr. Smith said, “but my family don’t believe they are facing life imprisonment or death.

“I am convinced (Mr. Assange) genuinely believes he will be sent to America and will face something terrible there.”

Some legal experts said they were mystified by the reasoning behind Mr. Assange’s dramatic asylum bid. But human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy, a former member of Mr. Assange‘s legal team, said he could be planning to bargain with Sweden for assurances that he would not be handed over to the United States.

She said that if granted such assurances, Mr. Assange might be willing to go to Sweden voluntarily.

Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.