OSLO (Reuters) - The Norwegian far-right gunman who massacred 77 people last summer gave a clenched-fist salute, smirked at the court and pleaded not guilty on the first day of a trial that threatens to turn into a “circus” showcasing his anti-Islamic views.
Anders Behring Breivik, 33, has said he acted in defense of his country by setting off a car bomb that killed eight people at government headquarters in Oslo last July, then killing another 69 people in a shooting spree at a youth summer camp organized by the ruling Labour Party.
The trial will turn on whether Breivik is found guilty or insane. While he risks being kept behind bars for the rest of his life, the high school dropout has said being labeled insane would be a “fate worse than death”.
Listening impassively for hours as prosecutors read out an indictment detailing how he massacred teenagers trapped on a island resort outside Oslo, he only shed tears when the court later showed one of his propaganda videos.
Wearing a suit and loosely knotted tie, Breivik entered the Oslo court in handcuffs. He smirked several times as the cuffs were removed, put his right fist on his heart then extended his hand in salute.
“I do not recognize the Norwegian courts. You have received your mandate from political parties which support multiculturalism,” Breivik told the court after refusing to stand when judges entered.
“I acknowledge the acts but not criminal guilt as I claim self defense,” he added, seated in front of a bullet-proof glass wall.
Occasionally suppressing a yawn, cracking his knuckles and sipping water, he stared down at the indictment papers, following without visible emotion the list of his killings as the prosecutor read out each one. Some details were so graphic that Norwegian television bleeped out descriptions of the massacres.
Breivik shot most of his victims several times, often using the first shot to take down his target then following up with a shot to the head. His youngest victim was 14. He later surrendered as “commander of the Norwegian resistance movement”.
Prosecutors played a recording of an emergency call made by one of the summer campers hiding in the bathroom of a cafe.
“There’s shooting all the time, I’ve seen many injured. He’s inside!” Renate Taarnes screamed, as 13 people in the cafe were shot dead. “He’s coming ... he’s coming,” she said as shots could be heard in the background.
But Breivik only became tearful while watching a movie of still pictures accompanied by text of his vision of evils of “multiculturalism” and “Islamic demographic warfare”.
“I think he feels sorry for himself,” said Mette Yvonne Larsen, one of the lawyers representing victims. “His project didn’t work out, that’s why he’s crying. He’s not crying for the victims ... he’s crying over his extremely childish film.”
The trial is scheduled to last 10 weeks and has raised fears that it could reopen wounds in Norway, a country that sees itself as a tolerant and peaceful society.
The “lone wolf” killer intends to say he was defending Norway against multiculturalism and Islam. He says his attacks were intended to punish “traitors” whose pro-immigration policies were adulterating Norwegian blood.
More than 200 people sat in the specially built courtroom while about 700 attack survivors and family members of victims watched on closed-circuit video around the country.
“It will be a tough time for many,” survivor Vegard Groeslie Wennesland, 28, said outside the courtroom. “Last time I saw him in person he was shooting my friends.”
Some Norwegians fear Breivik will succeed in turning the trial, with about 800 journalists on hand, into a platform for his anti-immigrant ideas. One Norwegian newspaper offered online readers a way to remove all Breivik-related stories.
His defense team has called 29 witnesses to argue Breivik was sane, with a world view shared by a narrow group of people.
His proposed witnesses include Mullah Krekar, the Kurdish founder of Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, who was recently jailed in Norway for making death threats, and “Fjordman”, a right-wing blogger who influenced Breivik. Breivik is scheduled to testify for about a week, starting on Tuesday.
He had been living with his mother in Oslo preparing for the attacks before renting a farm in order to make a fertilizer bomb.
Last July 22, he set off the bomb in the centre of Oslo before heading to the youth camp on Utoeya, an island in a lake 40 km (25 miles) outside the capital, gunning down his victims while police took more than an hour to get to the massacre site in the chaos that followed the bomb blast.
Disguised as a police officer, Breivik managed to lure some of his victims out of hiding, saying help had arrived. Other victims jumped into the lake, where he shot them in the water.
Prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh spoke of the “panic and mortal fear in children, youths and adults” trapped on the island.
Prosecutors painted an image of a Breivik obsessed with the “World of Warcraft” computer game, prompting the judge to ask whether the game was violent. Breivik broke into a smile when the image of his online character was displayed.
“Your arrest will mark the initiation of the propaganda phase,” Breivik wrote in a manual for future attackers, part of a 1,500-page manifesto he posted online. “Your trial offers you a stage to the world.”
In a recent letter seen by the Norwegian newspaper VG, Breivik said: “The court case looks like it will be a circus ... it is an absolutely unique opportunity to explain the idea of (the manifesto) to the world.”
An initial psychiatric evaluation concluded that Breivik was criminally insane while a second, completed in the past week, found no evidence of psychosis. Resolving this conflict could be the five-judge panel’s major decision.
If found guilty and sane, Breivik faces a maximum 21-year sentence but could be held indefinitely if he is considered a continuing danger. If declared insane, he would be held in a psychiatric institution indefinitely with periodic reviews.
Additional reporting by Victoria Klesty and Terje Solsvik; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Giles Elgood