A year after Breivik's massacre, Norway tightens antiterror laws

Norway's prime minister tells the Monitor that, despite the new laws, the country will maintain its open and democratic character. 

Tor Erik Schroeder/Reuters
People lay down flowers outside the damaged government buliding in Oslo July 22, during the first anniversary of the twin Oslo-Utoeya massacre by self-confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik.

As Norwegians mark the first anniversary of last summer’s twin terror attacks, they are enacting new laws to combat political violence while trying to preserve their society's broad liberties.

Among the changes proposed in recent weeks are new terror laws that would make it illegal for one person to plan an attack and criminalizing participation in terrorist training camps abroad. There are also calls for increased surveillance measures, such as wiretapping rooms to avert attacks on government officials.

The proposed laws would have made Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man behind the July 22 attacks that claimed 77 lives, criminally responsible in the planning phase had he been caught with his homemade bombs and arsenal of weapons meant for Labor party targets. The current terror law specifies planning by several persons.

“My message is that fundamentally Norway is the same kind of [open and democratic] society,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s prime minister, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor shortly after laying a memorial wreath in the government square behind his bombed out offices. One year later, those offices remain draped in plastic tarp and the windows are boarded up.

“But of course we are not in no way changed,” he said.  “This will affect us and it has affected us partly, as you mentioned, by some of the measures we have already implemented related to increased capacity for the police security services and closer cooperation between the Army and the police. And I believe that we are going to do more of these kinds of things after the [July 22] Commission presents its report within the next few weeks."

The government appointed the commission last year to carry out a broad evaluation of the response to the attacks in order to gather lessons and ensure that Norway was prepared to prevent and respond to future attacks.

The otherwise peaceful Nordic nation was forever altered last July when Mr. Breivik detonated a car bomb in the middle of the government quarters in downtown Oslo, killing eight, and later that day embarked on a shooting spree at the Labor party’s political summer camp for youth on Utøya island, claiming a further 69 lives.

During today’s anniversary events nationwide, the country is forced to once again come to terms with how a 33-year-old native Norwegian man from a middle-class neighborhood in Oslo could develop into a far-right militant nationalist targeting Labor’s pro-immigration stance, plan alone an attack undetected over so many years, and carry out such a brutal attack. He killed the majority of his victims, mostly teenagers, by shooting them iwith a Glock pistol and Ruger semiautomatic weapon while they ran for more than an hour trapped on the island of Utøya, 24 miles outside Oslo.

The nation marked the anniversary of its worst peacetime tragedy with memorial church services and visits to Utøya by Labor party officials, victims’ relatives, and hundreds of young Labor party members, many of whom escaped the attacks alive. Among the participants was Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Norwegian Labor prime minister who left the island just hours before last year’s attack and was a prime target that day for “decapitation,” according to Breivik.

“One year ago today, everything changed,” said Eskil Pedersen, leader of the youth arm of the Labor Party, in a memorial address to hundreds of party youth sitting on the hill nearby where Breivik claimed his first Utøya victim. “It was not a nightmare. It was a reality.”

In the evening, tens of thousands were expected to gather to hear Norwegian singers and authors perform in a free national memorial concert in Oslo’s City Hall Square, the same plaza where hundreds of thousands had gathered in sorrow last year in a “rose march” just days after the attacks.

The nation will next focus its attention on the expected sentence, now that the 10-week trial concluded last month. The judges are set to announce their decision Aug. 24. Prosecutors are asking for Breivik to be remanded to compulsory mental health care because they are in doubt about his sanity, while the defense has argued he is sane. Breivik says he wants to be found sane so that his political ideology can stand stronger.

If found criminally punishable, Breivik faces a maximum 21 years in prison with a high likelihood that his custody period is extended repeatedly so that he is behind bars for life, provided he is still considered a danger to society. Three out of 4 Norwegians polled last month by Norstat for Norwegian public broadcaster NRK felt Breivik was mentally competent to be sentenced to prison. And many have expressed that they feel justice would be better served if Breivik were held accountable in prison, rather than be sent to a mental hospital.

Regardless, Breivik will most likely remain at Ila prison, where he currently awaits sentencing. The parliament recently approved the building of a purpose-built mental health care facility for Breivik to be located at Ila under a recently approved law.

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