Only home movie moves mass killer to tears
BY TURNS defiant, impassive and, just once, tearful, a self-described anti-Islamic militant who admitted carrying out Norway’s worst peacetime atrocity last year, killing 77 people including scores of young people at a summer camp on a tranquil island, went on trial in Oslo yesterday proclaiming that he had acted in self-defence, bore no criminal guilt and rejected the authority of the court.
In remarkable evidence played to a packed and shocked courtroom, recordings of mobile phone calls made by the gunman to the police suggested that he had tried twice to give himself up and had simply gone on killing in the absence of officers to accept his surrender. In the period after the first call to his final shot, prosecutors said, 41 people had died.
The gunman, Anders Behring Breivik (33), has admitted on several occasions that he carried out the rampage on July 22nd, in which 69 people were shot and killed on Utoeya island, near Oslo, where the youth wing of the governing Labour party was holding a summer camp. Hours earlier, a car bombing in central Oslo killed eight people.
As the grisly evidence unfolded, and some bereaved families and survivors in the courtroom sobbed, Breivik remained mostly impassive, at one point seeming to stifle a yawn. Only as the court viewed a video that Breivik had made before the attacks to publicise his cause, did he break down in tears, dabbing at his face.
Breivik, wearing a black suit, white shirt and gold coloured tie, gave a right-wing clenched-fist salute as soon as his handcuffs were removed then took his seat between his lawyers behind bullet-proof glass. At times, he fastidiously dusted his shoulders and arranged his hair.
The accused began by announcing that he did “not recognise the authority of the Norwegian court because it derives its mandate from a party [Labour] that supports multiculturalism”. He also claimed that one judge was a friend of a former Labour prime minister.
For almost an hour, the prosecutor read out the 18-page indictment listing the victims. How they died and the injuries they suffered were outlined in graphic detail. Some were so disturbing that Norwegian television bleeped out sections. Breivik sat impassively throughout.
Some people left the courtroom while others cried quietly. Four psychiatric expert witnesses sat near Breivik closely observing his reactions. The central issue facing the court is to determine his mental health. If Breivik is deemed to have been sane when he carried out the killings, the presiding judges can sentence him to up to 21 years in prison, with a provision to keep him behind bars for longer if he is still considered dangerous. If found insane, Breivik can be kept in forced psychiatric care for as long as his illness persists.
When asked by the judge about his personal details, Breivik denied a court official’s statement that he was unemployed and lived in prison. “That is not correct,” he said. “I am a writer currently working from my prison cell”.
On the question of how he chose to plead, he replied: “I acknowledge the acts, but I don’t plead guilty, as I claim I was doing it in self-defence.” He had previously denied criminal responsibility on the ground that he was protecting Norway from Islamic immigration.
As part of the prosecution evidence, video clips, CCTV coverage and other recordings were played to the court, showing Breivik’s movements before the bomb went off and at the exact moment the bomb detonated as well as those who were later to be blown apart by the bomb which Breivik had planted near government headquarters in Oslo. Breivik remained impassive and detached while these were played but there were audible gasps from some in the courtroom.
Personal aspects of Breivik’s life were outlined – his failed business ventures; moving back in with his mother; membership of the conservative Progress Party; his obsession with video games and the non-existent Knights Templar.
Only when his 12-minute propaganda film was played to the court, depicting the “evils of multiculturalism” and “Islamic demographic warfare” and ending with images of Breivik himself, did the accused show the first signs of emotion.
“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.”
One of the most disturbing pieces of evidence was a recording of a phone call made to the police by Renate Taarnes (22) on Utoeya who had hidden in the toilets.
During the short conversation, about 50 shots can be heard in the background as the terrified young woman asks for help. At one stage, she is barely audible as she whispers that he is right outside the door. “There’s shooting all the time, I’ve seen many injured. He’s inside! He’s coming . . . he’s coming,” she said.
She escaped unharmed and will be a key witness when she gives her evidence.
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.”
Breivik has said his attacks were intended to punish “traitors” whose pro-immigration policies had adulterated Norwegian blood.
His defence 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.
The court heard Breivik’s second call offering to surrender, in which he said: “My name is Anders Behring Breivik. I’m a commander of the Norwegian Resistance Movement. Could you give me the head of Delta?” he said, referring to an elite police unit. “I’m on Utoeya. I’m a person who wishes to surrender,” he said, claiming to have successfully completed an “operation”. “Since it has been completed, it is time to give myself up to Delta,” he said before hanging up and continuing his massacre.
The trial continues today with Breivik’s testimony. He wants to read a 30-minute statement that will be “the most important piece of evidence presented to the court on whether he will be found to be sane or not”, his lawyer said.
“We understand the bereaved don’t want this court to be turned into a pulpit; we understand it would be hard for the families, but he has a right as a defendant in Norwegian law to give a statement, and a human right as well.” – (Additional reporting: New York Times; Reuters).