Killer's Day in Court a Trial for Norway
OSLO—Nine months after a lone gunman killed 77 people and injured hundreds with an unprecedented shooting spree and a car bomb, Norway faces a new trauma: his trial.
Anders Behring Breivik, 33 years old, has admitted his deeds, but said they were justified because he is at war with Islam and what he described as "multiculturalism." Many in Norway fear that the trial—the biggest in Norway since those of Nazi collaborators after World War II—will give him a platform to spread such views.
The attack shook the nation of five million people to its core. Not a day goes by without Norwegian media bringing another story about the mass murder. The date July 22 has become a household expression in Norway—much like Sept. 11 became a term of remembrance in the U.S. after the terror attacks there.
At the core of the trial, scheduled to last 10 weeks, is whether the massacre was carried out by a madman or by someone representing growing political rumblings over Norway's increased openness to immigrants.
Psychiatrists disagree over whether Mr. Breivik is insane, an issue that will decide if he is sentenced to jail or compulsory mental care. Mr. Breivik himself maintains that he is sane—and a hero.
For the survivors, reliving the events on the island of Utoya—where Mr. Breivik attacked a Labor Party youth camp—won't be easy.
"The trial will be really tough, especially since the focus will be on him," said Vegard Groslie Wennesland, 28, who was elected leader of the Oslo branch of the Labor youth organization after Mr. Breivik killed the previous leader, Havard Vederhus, at Utoya. Mr. Wennesland was among the 40 members who hid in the island's schoolhouse.
"This is his arena, his chance to explain what he did. It will not be a 10-week memorial ceremony," Mr. Wennesland said.
The trial, which starts Monday, is also unusual because it involves so many people. It will be held in a brand-new room at the Oslo District Court and in an unprecedented move it will be broadcast live to 17 courtrooms across the country, to include the 800 victims and next of kin who have the legal right to watch it and are allowed to bring one person each, for support.
In addition, the court has prepared 850 seats for reporters covering the trial. Separate viewing rooms are set up inside the Oslo courthouse, in a nearby hotel and in the offices of the VG newspaper.
Mr. Breivik's explanations will not be broadcast to the public. The Norwegian Press Association appealed that decision, arguing that people should be able to make up their own minds about his mental health, but the court found it would be too painful for the victims.
The 99 witnesses for the prosecution will tell the court how Mr. Breivik, dressed as a police officer, blew up the government block in Oslo with a powerful car bomb, killing eight people and wounding at least 200, before bringing a semiautomatic rifle and a pistol to Utoya, killing another 69, and injuring 33. Almost half of his victims were under 18, many were executed at close range and many were shot several times.
Witnesses will also tell the court how Mr. Breivik told his victims at Utoya that the police had arrived to lure them out of their hiding places. He has expressed no regrets, instead insisting he should get a medal of honor.
Mr. Breivik's lawyers won't defend what he did, but will argue that his ideas, rather than delusions, are political views shared by others such as the right-wing blogger Peder Jensen, nicknamed Fjordman, who was widely quoted in the "manifesto" Mr. Breivik sent out in the hours before his attacks.
Mr. Breivik was inspired by texts such as Fjordman's 2007 essay "Native Revolt: A European Declaration of Independence," where he writes that "We are sick and tired of feeling like strangers in our own lands, of being mugged, raped, stabbed, harassed and even killed by violent gangs of Muslim thugs, yet being accused of "racism and xenophobia" by our media and intimidated by our own authorities to accept even more such immigration."
Mr. Breivik's lawyer Geir Lippestad said the defense will also call Islamists to the stand, in order to show that Mr. Breivik's view of a war between Muslims and Christians is shared by other extreme groups.
The trial coincides with one in Denmark, of four Swedes accused of plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper that printed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. That trial starts Friday.
Two separate psychiatric reports give conflicting versions of Mr. Breivik's mental state. A report this week by psychiatrists Agnar Aspaas and Terje Torrisen declared Mr. Breivik sane, contradicting an initial report where two other psychiatrists deemed him psychotic and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The conclusion was criticized by psychiatrists, and in an unusual move, the court had called for a second opinion.
"I'm glad the conclusion was so clear," said lawyer and commentator Harald Stabell to the Norwegian TV channel NRK after the second report was released. "I think the idea that Breivik did not understand what he was doing conflicts with many people's sense of justice."
If the court finds that Mr. Breivik was psychotic, there is a theoretical possibility that he could one day be released, though few Norwegians imagine him ever walking the streets again.
If the court declares Mr. Breivik to be sane, he could face a maximum sentence of 21 years, which could be extended for as long as he is seen as a danger to society.
"My hope is that the nation will be at ease" after the trial, said Eskil Pedersen, national leader of the Labor youth organization that was attacked on Utoya. "For me, that means that this person will not be a danger for society ever again. I have faith in the judicial system."
A sentence is expected in mid-July.