Anders Breivik trial gets underway in Norway as defendant claims self-defense

Anders Breivik admitted to July 2011 attacks in Norway that killed more than 70 people, but did not take criminal responsibility for them.

Hakon Mosvold Larsen/REUTERS
Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik gestures as he arrives for his terrorism and murder trial in a courtroom in Oslo April 16. Breivik, who massacred 77 people last summer, arrived under heavy armed guard at an Oslo courthouse on Monday, lifting his arm in what he has called a rightist salute as his trial began.

Today Norway opened the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the man responsible for a bombing and shooting last summer that left 77 people dead.

Mr. Breivik entered a not guilty plea, saying that he admitted to the acts, but did not take criminal responsibility for them.

“I acknowledge the acts, but not criminal guilt and I claim self-defense,” Breivik told the court, according to The Telegraph. “I don't recognize Norwegian courts because you get your mandate from the Norwegian political parties who support multiculturalism.”

The key thing for the court to determine now is whether Breivik is sane, which will decide whether he receives psychiatric care or is sent to prison. Presently, it remains unclear how the court will diagnose his mental condition. A first evaluation declared him a paranoid schizophrenic, but a second evaluation deemed him sane

Communicating through his attorneys and an open letter, Breivik has attested to his own sanity, saying that confinement to a psychiatric ward would be “worse than death,” reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

With Breivik expressing no remorse for his actions, the trial is likely to be an ordeal for many in Norway, reports the BBC. The gruesome July 2011 attacks, in which Breivik set off a car bomb in Oslo and then went on a shooting spree at a Labour party youth camp on the island of Utøya, shocked Norway.

“It's a historical date for Norwegians,” said Jorid Nordmelan, a survivor of the Utøya massacre, in an interview with the BBC. “We never had a trial like this, so we don't know what's going to happen. Prosecutors told me they were going to make the opening statements awful, so that people can just feel what he did right there.” 

Following Breivik’s charged opening remarks, there is mounting concern among Norwegians that the killer will use his court case as a grandstanding platform for his racist ideology.

“His lawyers have also hinted that they will call other witnesses with extreme political sympathies, who will testify that his ‘fears of Muslim colonization’ were not unfounded given the rising tide of immigration and actual threats made by some Muslim immigrants,” writes the Atlantic Wire’s Dashiell Bennett.

Already there is some talk among the local Norwegian media about how much coverage to give the case. Most outlets have invested extensive resources into the story. TV2 has 220 employees working to cover the trial and Aftenposten, whose digital editor described the trial as the “most important story we’ve ever covered,” has 60 to 70 journalists covering the story. Yet The Norway Post reports that some news outlets will offer their readers versions of their websites without any news about the trial.

”This is about the readers,” said editor-in-chief of Dagbladet, Espen Egil Hansen in an article by the Norway Post. He said his outlet would offer Breivik-free news as a courtesy to the victims and their friends and family. ”Some want to read and some don’t.”

Still, some victims are glad to see Breivik put publicly on trial.

“I think it’s very important that the world sees this and sees it for what it is. It’s a tragedy that is founded on political views that are very common in the rest of the world as well and we have to fight extremist actions like this,” said Utøya survivor Bjoern Ihler in an interview with Euronews.

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