Norway’s mass killer aims to take world stage in ‘circus’ trial

Anti-Islam militant Anders Behring Breivik appears bent on turning a Norwegian court into a “circus” show for his views when he goes on trial today for killing 77 people, reopening wounds in the traditionally tolerant and tranquil nation.

The facts of the case will hardly be at issue: Breivik has proudly admitted bombing the government’s headquarters in Oslo last July, killing eight people, before gunning down 69, mostly teenagers, at a summer camp of the ruling Labour Party.

Nevertheless, the “lone wolf” killer intends to deny criminal guilt and subject the country to a trial scheduled to last ten weeks, during which the court must rule on both his guilt, and his sanity.

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“Not only will he explain [his actions], but he will also say he regrets he didn’t go further,” said Geir Lippestad, Breivik’s defence attorney, telling Norwegians to brace themselves for “tough and demanding” testimony.

Some Norwegians fear Breivik will succeed in making the trial, with about 800 journalists on hand, a platform for anti-immigrant ideas. His defence team has called 29 witnesses, ranging from Islamists to right-wing bloggers, to shed light on his world view.

“It is an unfortunate side- effect that this provides him a microphone for his ideology,” said Atle Dyregrov, the director for the Centre for Crisis Psychology. “For the victims, it will stir up quite a bit of emotion and bring back a lot of pain.”

That appears to be the aim of Breivik, who is scheduled to testify for about a week, starting tomorrow.

“Your arrest will mark the initiation of the propaganda phase,” he wrote in a manual for future attackers, part of a 1,500-page manifesto he posted online. “Your trial offers you a stage to the world.”

In a recent letter seen by Norwegian newspaper VG, he added: “The court case looks like it will be a circus… it is an absolutely unique opportunity to explain the idea of [the manifesto] to the world.”

On 22 July last year, Breivik set off the bomb before heading to the youth camp on Utoeya, an island in a lake 25 miles outside Oslo, gunning down his victims while police took an hour to get to the massacre site in the chaos following the blast.

Breivik has said the attacks were to punish “traitors” whose pro-immigration policies were adulterating Norwegian blood.

An initial psychiatric test concluded Breivik was criminally insane, while a second one, completed in the past week, found no evidence of psychosis. Resolving this conflict could be the five-judge panel’s major decision.

If found sane, Breivik faces a maximum 21-year sentence, but could be held indefinitely if he is considered a continuing danger. If declared insane, he would be held in a psychiatric institution indefinitely with periodic reviews.

Some Norwegians believe Breivik’s strategy will backfire.

“I think having the stage will hurt him more than it will build him up,” said Bjoern Ihler, 20, a survivor of the shootings on Utoeya. “People will realise that his ideas are not of this world.”

Breivik’s proposed witnesses include Mullah Krekar, the Kurdish founder of Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, jailed in Norway for making death threats, and “Fjordman”, a right-wing blogger and influence on Breivik.