HOLDING his right arm to his heart, before extending it aloft to deliver a closed-fist salute to the watching world, Anders Behring Breivik went on trial yesterday for the murders of 77 people in a case that will decide whether he is evil or insane.
The right-wing extremist whose campaign of terror in Norway sent shockwaves around the world last summer admitted the bomb and gun attack, but pleaded not guilty at the start of his trial.
Breivik said that while he “acknowledged” carrying out a series of bombing and shooting outrages, he rejected responsibility for a raft of criminal charges put before him, claiming he had acted in self-defence.
On a highly emotional opening day of his long-awaited trial, he emphatically rejected the authority of those charged with deciding his fate within moments of taking his seat at Oslo District Court.
Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and loosely knotted gold tie, with a thin beard along his jawline, the 33-year-old smiled as a guard removed his handcuffs.
He made clear his belief that he had no case to answer over the slaughter, stating: “I don’t recognise Norwegian courts, because you get your mandate from the Norwegian political parties who support multiculturalism.”
“I acknowledge the acts, but not criminal guilt, and I claim self-defence,” Breivik told the court, later adding that he did not recognise the authority of Judge Wenche Elisabeth Arntzen, because he said she was friends with the sister of former Norwegian prime minister and Labour Party leader Gro Harlem Brundtland.
He remained stone-faced and motionless as prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh read her indictment on terrorism and premeditated murder charges, which detailed not just the crimes for which Breivik was standing trial – charges of terrorism “with the intention of seriously intimidating a population” – but also harrowing descriptions of how each victim died during the attacks on 22 July last year.
Eight were killed in a bombing in Oslo’s government district and 69 in a shooting massacre at the Labour Party’s youth camp on Utøya island. His youngest victim was 14, and no fewer than 54 had died after being shot in the head.
Some of the ways people died were deemed so graphic that Norwegian media declined to broadcast the details.
Ms Engh told the court that Breivik had “created fear in the Norwegian population” and described the “panic and mortal fear in children, youths and adults” trapped on Utøya as Breivik embarked on his rampage.
“He shot at people who were fleeing or hiding, or who he lured out by saying he was a policeman,” she added.
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-defence in Norwegian law, it does not 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-defence,” he said.
While Breivik remained impassive throughout the majority of the day, he became emotional when prosecutors showed a 12-minute anti-Islam propaganda video he had posted on YouTube before the killing spree, wiping away tears on his cheek with trembling hands.
The video argued against the evils of multiculturalism and “Islamic demographic warfare”.
After a lunch break, he was again expressionless as he watched prosecutors present surveillance footage of the Oslo explosion. The blast ripped through the high-rise building that housed government headquarters, blowing out windows and filling surrounding streets with smoke and debris.
He did not flinch as prosecutors played a three-minute recording of a young woman’s frantic phone call to police from Utøya.
“Shots have been fired,” said survivor Renate Taarnes, 22, with panic in her voice. “I’m pretty sure there are many injured.”
More than a dozen shots in close succession could be heard as the woman fell silent. “Are you still there?” the police officer asked. “Yes,” she whispered.
She fell silent again, breathing into the phone as more shots cracked in the background.
Later, the court heard a call Breivik made to police during the massacre, in which he said he wanted to turn himself in. In one of the conversations, played in court, he identified himself as a commander of “the Norwegian resistance movement” and said he had “just completed an operation on behalf of Knights Templar.”
When the operator asked him to repeat himself, Breivik sounded irritated and hung up.
The key issue to be resolved during the ten-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.
Breivik wants to be judged as a sane person and will call radical Islamists and extremists on the right and left to testify to support “his perception that there is a war going on in Europe”, his defence lawyer, Geir Lippestad, told the court.
Breivik’s defence team has called 29 witnesses to argue his sanity, aiming to prove Breivik’s views on multiculturalism are not the result of psychosis.
Proposed witnesses include Mullah Krekar, the founder of Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, who was jailed for making death threats, and “Fjordman”, a right-wing blogger who has had a profound influence on Breivik.
Mr Lippestad said Breivik wanted to read a new document he had written at the start of his testimony today.
In an opening statement, Mr Lippestad said Breivik would invoke self-defence and expand on that in the coming days.
He said his client had a “basic right” and a “human right” to give a statement, but more importantly it was also the “most important piece of evidence” that would be given to the court, which would help them decide whether he was “legally sane”.
“We can fully understand the relatives’ difficulty in listening to Breivik’s statement, but it’s also important to remember that Breivik has the right under Norwegian law, and it is a human right,” he added.
Police sealed off the streets around the court, where journalists, survivors and relatives of victims watched the proceedings in a 200-seat courtroom built for the trial. Thick glass partitions were put up to separate Breivik from victims and their families.
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”.
He is due to take to the stand today for his testimony, which is expected to last for around a week. Norway television is not allowed to show Breivik’s testimony. The trial continues.