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Faced with Breivik's unflinching account, Norway surprises world with its civility

A reporter covering Anders Behring Breivik's trial marvels at the degree of civility Norwegians have shown him, considering the brutality of the July 2011 terror attacks and his lack of remorse.

By Correspondent / May 4, 2012

Anders Behring Breivik sits in the Oslo Courthouse, Norway, Thursday, May 3, on the 11th day of the terror trial.

Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix/AP

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Oslo

In the first two weeks of Anders Behring Breivik's trial, the Norwegian man reiterated his conviction that he did the right thing when he killed 77 people on July 22, 2011 – even if it meant shooting unarmed Labor party youth members as young as 14 trapped on an island or bombing government buildings in Oslo. Those killed were “legitimate political targets,” he said.

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The attacks were “gruesome but necessary" for preventing Labor from continuing to undermine Norwegian society with its lenient immigration policies, Mr. Breivik said. The party had betrayed the country by promoting the Islamic colonization of Norway and ipso facto the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Norwegians. He would do it all again, he said. 

International onlookers have been shocked to see how civil the whole trial is proceeding, given the scale and brutality of his crimes – together they are the worst national tragedy the country has experienced since World War II – and Breivik's lack of remorse. 

On April 16, the first day of the 10-week trial, a lineup of prosecutors, forensic psychiatrists, and the legal counsel for the victims all approached Breivik in court to shake his hand. Wearing a suit and neatly trimmed beard, he politely extended his right hand to greet them. Outside, people lined up orderly to enter Oslo District Court. There was not a single sign denouncing him, nor any banners calling for the death penalty.

IN PICTURES: Norway vs. Breivik 

On the second day of the trial, he was allowed to begin his six-day testimony of what happened in the years leading up to the attack, including his preparation for that day. At the end of the first week he recounted, in chilling detail, of how, after packing a ham and cheese sandwich that morning, he shot and killed 69 people at the Labor party youth summer camp on Utøya with a Glock pistol and Ruger semi-automatic rifle.

If this all sounds surreal, that’s because it is. 

It is surreal to see a well-dressed upper class man sit in a court and calmly explain how he killed Norwegians to prevent Norway’s demise. It’s incomprehensible to hear how a man, who supposedly had all the economic means and generous provisions of a cradle-to-grave welfare system, could turn into Norway’s most notorious killer in modern times. And that is part of what scares Norwegians: the thought that he is one of them. 

Despite the atrocity of his crimes and his behavior, Norwegians still want to see him get a fair trial. But that means he has a legal right to explain himself in court, even if there is a risk that he spreads his propaganda. The trial is also key in determining Breivik's sanity, which is at the crux of this case. The prosecution even defended his right to keep reading from his prepared speech on his first day of testimony in spite of protests from the legal counsel for the victims, who were offended by his one-hour long monologue. 

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