OSLO, Norway — The right-wing fanatic behind a bomb-and-shooting massacre that killed 77 people in Norway admitted to the “acts” on today but pleaded not guilty to criminal charges, saying he was acting in self-defense.
Anders Behring Breivik defiantly rejected the authority of the court as he went on trial for the July 22 attacks that shocked the peaceful nation and jolted the image of terrorism in Europe.
Dressed in a dark suit and sporting a thin beard along his jawline, Breivik smiled as a guard removed his handcuffs in the crowded court room. The 33-year-old then flashed a closed-fist salute, before shaking hands with prosecutors and court officials.
“I don’t recognize Norwegian courts because you get your mandate from the Norwegian political parties who support multiculturalism,” Breivik said in his first comments to the court.
He remained stone-faced and motionless as prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh read his indictment on terror and premeditated murder charges, with descriptions of how each victim died. Eight were killed in a bombing in Oslo’s government district and 69 in a shooting massacre at the left-leaning Labor Party’s youth camp on Utoya island outside the capital.
“I admit to the acts, but not criminal guilt,” he told the court, and said he had acted in self-defense.
Breivik also said he doesn’t recognize the authority of Judge Wenche Elisabeth Arntzen, because he said she is friends with the sister of former Norwegian Prime Minister and Labor Party leader Gro Harlem Brundtland.
The anti-Muslim militant described himself as a writer, currently working from prison, when asked by the judge for his employment status.
Breivik has said the attacks were necessary to protect Norway from being taken over by Muslims. He claims he targeted the government headquarters in Oslo and the youth camp to strike against the left-leaning political forces he blames for allowing immigration in Norway.
While there is a principle of preventive self-defense in Norwegian law, it doesn’t apply to Breivik’s case, said Jarl Borgvin Doerre, a legal expert, who has written a book about the concept.
“It is obvious that it has nothing to do with preventive self-defense,” Doerre told the Associated Press.
The key issue to be resolved during the 10-week trial is the state of Breivik’s mental health, which will decide whether he is sent to prison or to psychiatric care.
If deemed mentally competent, he would face a maximum prison sentence of 21 years or an alternate custody arrangement under which the sentence is prolonged for as long as an inmate is deemed a danger to society.
Police sealed off the streets around the court building, where journalists, survivors and relatives of victims watched the proceedings in a 200-seat courtroom built specifically for the trial.
Thick glass partitions were put up to separate the defendant from victims and their families, many of whom are worried that Breivik will use the trial to promote his extremist political ideology. In a manifesto he published online before the attacks, Breivik wrote that “patriotic resistance fighters” should use trials “as a platform to further our cause.”
Norway’s NRK television will broadcast parts of the trial, but it is not allowed to show Breivik’s testimony.
He had told investigators he is a resistance fighter in a far-right militant group modeled after the Knights Templar — a Western Christian order that fought during the crusades — but police have found no trace of the organization and say he acted alone.
“In our opinion such a network does not exist,” Prosecutor Svein Holden told the court.
Anxious to prove he is not insane, he has called right-wing extremists and radical Islamists to testify during the trial, to show that there are others who share his view of clashing civilizations.
Breivik surrendered to police 1 hour and 20 minutes after he arrived on Utoya. The police response was slowed by a series of mishaps, including the lack of an operating police helicopter and the breakdown of an overloaded boat carrying a commando team to the island.