16 Apr 2012

Norway gunman Breivik claims ‘self-defence’

The man accused of killing 77 people in Norway cries while watching his own propaganda film during the first day of the trial, which marks an “important test” for Norway, Channel 4 News hears.

Anders Breivik, 33, arrived in court dressed in a dark suit with cropped blonde hair and raised his hand in what appeared to be a clenched-fist “Nazi” salute.

He smiled as a guard removed his handcuffs and then said that he did not recognise Norweigan courts, before pleading not guilty.

“You [Norweigan courts] have received your mandate from political parties which support multiculturalism,” Breivik said, after refusing to stand when judges entered. “I acknowledge the acts but not criminal guilt as I claim self-defence.”

They are giving him a microphone out to the world, which is unfortunate, but it is important to giving him a fair trial. Professor Jo Stigen

Breivik showed little emotion while the prosecutor read out the names of the victims and how they died, and appeared to be suppressing a yawn. When the court was shown one of Breivik’s films [see video above] – still pictures accompanied by text, showing what were described as the evils of “multiculturalism” and “Islamic demographic warfare” – the defendant wiped away tears.

Later in the day, when the court viewed previously unseen footage of the massacre at a youth camp on Utoeya island on a lake 40 km from Oslo, relatives in the courtroom gasped but Breivik showed no reaction and at times seemed to be smirking.

Norway’s legal system
The trial is an “important test” of Norway’s legal system, Professor Jo Stigen, specialist in public and international law at the University of Oslo, told Channel 4 News, “and there are a lot of ad hoc decisions that have to be made along the way.”

The judicial system in Norway has been at pains to ensure that Breivik is granted a fair trial so he cannot dispute the verdict. However the lead judge has the final say about what is broadcast outside the court, and a one-minute delay on tranmission means that some details considered too horrific can be censored. This happened on Monday morning, when details of the fatal injuries sustained by victims were read out in court but silenced on Norwegian television.

“The right of the accused is only to express himself in the courtroom. But it is about balancing the interest of the victim against the concerns of people out there,” said Professor Stigen. “One important thing is to protect the public from the most horrific details that were said.”

Concerns have also been raised about Breivik using the trial to express his extremist views. “He wants to go as far as possible to reflect his extreme political views, and again, he is allowed to do that under Norweigan laws,” Professor Stigen said. “They are giving him a microphone out to the world, which is unfortunate, but it is important to giving him a fair trial.”

‘Panic and mortal fear’

Breivik has previously confessed to setting off a car bomb that killed eight people in Oslo, then massacring 69 in a shooting spree at an island summer camp for Labour Party youths, on 22 July last year. But he denies criminal responsibility and says the party is a “legitimate target” because it tolerates Muslims.

Disguised as a police officer, Breivik persuaded some of his victims to come out of where they were hiding, pretending he was there to help. Some victims jumped into the lake to try and escape, where he shot them in the water. The majority of victims were teenagers, the youngest being 14 years old.

Last time I saw him in person, I saw him shoot and kill my friends. So it is tough but it is also important to get through it. Survivor Vegard Groeslie Wennesland

Reading out the indictment, prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh spoke of the “panic and mortal fear in children, youths and adults” trapped on the island.

The 10-week trial, which began on Monday, is expected to focus on whether Breivik is sane enough to be sent to prison for up to 21 years, or into psychiatric care if he is declared mentally ill.

The Oslo courtroom was packed with around 200 people, half of whom are survivors and close relatives of the victims. Police sealed off streets around the court building, and thick glass partitions have been set up in court to separate victims and their families from the defendant.

“Today the trial starts. It will be a difficult time many,” survivor Vegard Groeslie Wennesland, 28, said outside the courtroom. “Last time I saw him in person, I saw him shoot and kill my friends. So it is tough but it is also important to get through it.”

Read more: Norway’s lost leaders

A platform for extremist views?

Breivik’s defence team have called 29 witnesses, from Islamists to right-wing bloggers, to provide an insight into his world view. In Norway, it is a criminal offence to refuse to testify in court if called as a witness.

Many of those called have been indentified as being part of extremist organisations in Norway. The list includes Hans Rustad, editor and general manager of the right-wing site Document.no and Ron Alte of the Norwegian Defence League.

Some Norwegians are concerned that the trial will become a platform for Breivik’s anti-immigration ideology, with around 800 journalists reporting the trial in detail. In a 1,500 word manual for future attackers, Breivik wrote: “Your arrest will mark the initiation of the propaganda phase,” adding, “Your trial offers you a stage to the world.”

A panel of five judges – two professional and three lay-judges – form the court and will make a final decision, but if Breivik appeals the court’s decision, he will be tried by a jury.

Breivik had been living with his mother in Oslo while preparing for the attacks, before renting a farm in order to make a fertiliser bomb. On 22 July he set off a bomb in the centre of Oslo before heading to the youth camp on Utoeya island on a lake 40 km (25 miles) outside the capital, gunning down his victims until the police arrived over an hour later.