Hundreds packed Oslo District Court to see Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man who confessed to last summer’s twin terror attacks in Oslo, for the last time before his long-awaited trial in April.
Mr. Breivik appeared in court for a final custody hearing dressed in a dark suit, composed and smiling subtly as he flashed his handcuffed arms in what his lawyer described as an extremist gesture in front of the media, survivors, and victims’ families.
He pleaded not guilty to the car bomb blast on July 22 against government buildings in Oslo and a subsequent shooting spree on the Labor party youth camp on the island of Utøya that killed 77 in the worst national tragedy in Norway since World War II.
Breivik cited self defense on behalf of his culture as the basis for his plea. He said both attacks were a “preventive attack on traitors” because the Labor-led government – which he has blamed for promoting the "Islamic colonization" of Norway – was allowing the “deconstruction of Norwegian culture.” Breivik suggested he should receive a war medal for his actions.
“Ethnic Norwegians will become the minority in 10 years,” Breivik said during a brief opening statement, which provoked short, sharp bouts of laughter from victims present in court. “Indigenous people subject to genocide have the right to defend themselves.”
Judge Wenche Gjelsten cut Breivik short and ordered him to be returned to Ila prison to be held in custody until his trial starts on April 16, citing a risk that he would commit further acts. Judge Gjelsten's decision was expected, despite the defense’s plea that Breivik be immediately released because of possible doubts about his sanity.
Two court-appointed psychiatrists, Torgeir Huseby and Synne Sørheim, concluded in November that Breivik was paranoid schizophrenic and psychotic and hence not punishable under Norwegian law. The diagnosis sparked criticism among some legal experts, who questioned how someone who so meticulously planned a crime over many years could be found psychotic.
Breivik himself claims he is not insane. His defense attorney has appealed the latest decision to submit him to a second psychiatric evaluation to the Supreme Court. Breivik has so far refused to cooperate with the two new court appointed psychiatrists, Agnar Aspaas and Terje Tørrissen.
Regardless of whether Breivik is deemed insane, the trial will still proceed in April as a normal criminal trial. The court has blocked off about 10 weeks for the trial, with a decision expected sometime in July.
Breivik faces possible charges of terrorism, which carry a maximum sentence of 21 years. Christian Hatlo, police prosecutor, told The Christian Science Monitor that the police had submitted its proposal for charges today, but a final decision from the Higher Prosecuting Authority would come later this month. There is still the possibility the Higher Prosecuting Authority may opt to instead charge Breivik for crimes against humanity, which carries a sentence of 30 years.
Breivik’s appearance today was only the second time victims and the media were allowed to see and hear the accused present himself in court since the July 22, 2011, attacks, and the first time he allowed photographs to be taken. This appearance drew more than 70 victims and survivors’ family members.
Trond Blattmann, leader for the July 22 support group, told Norwegian news agency NTB that although the group preferred the hearing was not open to the public, it was important for some to see Breivik in person in order to “mentally prepare themselves for the trial” in April.
In the end, the outcome of Breivik’s trial will be determined by two court judges, Wenche Arntzen and Arne Lyng, and three civilian judges. The court is expected to select the three civilian judges this month via a lottery system from its registry of Norwegian citizens in Oslo.
These three may in theory overrule the two judges and determine Breivik’s sentencing. However, the judges will take a formal ruling first at the end of the trial on whether Breivik is legally insane and sent to a psychiatric institution or sane and hence able to be charged.