Several hundred people packed Oslo District Court to hear Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian gunman charged in twin terror attacks on July 22, speak before press and victims for the first time since the attacks, which killed 77 people.
The country is still haunted by the national tragedy that shocked the normally quiet Nordic nation, which was hoping that today's public hearing would give some insight into what kind of man could commit such violence.
The 32-year-old Breivik appeared composed, dressed in a dark suit with light blue tie, for his open court custody hearing. He sat face to face with about 80 members of the press and 50 survivors, victims' relatives, and victims rights’ attorneys.
Breivik stared somberly toward the prosecution for most of the 25-minute hearing. He pleaded not guilty to the terror charges but only after being cut off by justice Torkjel Nesheim as he launched into one of several diatribes during the court proceedings.
“I am a military commander in the Norwegian military resistance movement… and a Knight Templar,” Breivik replied, when asked his plea. “[The court has] a mandate from those that support multiculturalism.”
The judge granted the prosecution’s request to extend his custody by 12 weeks, but relaxed the current ban on letters and visits, which will now be allowed but monitored, for the next eight weeks. He extended the ban on access to media by four more weeks.
Breivik has been in custody for 16 weeks, essentially in solitary confinement. He is awaiting trial, expected in April, for bombing a government building and carrying out a mass shooting spree on a political youth camp being held on the island of Utøya.
The two attacks are Norway’s worst national tragedy since World War II.
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Herman Heggertveit, a “relieved” 18-year old Labor Party youth member who survived the Utøya attack, says it was “therapy” for him to see Breivik in court. He says he was not surprised when, at the end of the heating, Breivik asked permission to directly address the victims present, a request that was quickly rejected by the judge.
“He is arrogant, self-assured, and without any form for apologies and lives in his own bubble,” says Heggertveit.
Breivik’s public appearance was the first in this high-profile case; hearings have so far been closed to the press. Breivik was originally expected to appear via video link from Ila prison until his attorney, Geir Lippestad, last Friday persuaded the Norwegian Supreme Court to suspend the original decision to make him appear via video.
Mr. Lippestad argued that it was important for his client to show up at his own hearing to ensure “court justice” and in light of his long isolation period. The decision came as a shock to victims’ families.
“There is a broad consensus that we do not want Breivik to have the possibility to profile himself and his ideas,” said Arne Okkenhaug, on behalf of the victims’ families support group that gathered over the weekend, in a press statement. Mr. Okkenhaug is one of the fathers of the 69 killed at Utøya Island.
“We fear the further increased attention this will give him…. The open court hearing can give him a speaker platform for spreading his viewpoints which we will experience as an extra burden.”
Breivik’s case is still awaiting the results from an evaluation by court-appointed psychologists as to whether he is fit to stand trial. Their decision has been postponed to Nov. 30.
If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of 21 years. However, he could sit in prison for the rest of his life if, as expected, he is still deemed a danger to society at the end of his current sentence and his sentence is repeatedly rolled over. There is no death penalty or life sentence in the Norwegian justice system. He could be the first in Norwegian history to have successive rollovers of his sentence.