OSLO (Reuters) - Anti-Islam militant Anders Behring Breivik appears bent on turning a Norwegian court into a “circus” show for his views when he goes on trial on Monday for killing 77 people, reopening wounds in the traditionally tolerant and tranquil nation.
The facts of the case will hardly be at issue; Breivik has proudly admitted bombing the government’s headquarters in Oslo last July, killing eight people, before gunning down 69, mostly teenagers, at a summer camp of the ruling Labour Party.
Nevertheless, the “lone wolf” killer intends to deny criminal guilt and subject the country to a trial scheduled to last 10 weeks, during which the court must rule on both his guilt, and his sanity.
“Not only will he explain (his actions), but he will also say he regrets that he didn’t go further,” said Geir Lippestad, Breivik’s defense attorney, urging Norwegians to brace themselves for “tough and demanding” testimony.
Some Norwegians fear Breivik will succeed in making the trial, with about 800 journalists on hand, a platform for anti-immigrant ideas. His defense team has called 29 witnesses, ranging from Islamists to right-wing bloggers, to shed light on his world view.
“It is an unfortunate side effect that this provides him a microphone for his ideology,” said Atle Dyregrov, the director for the Center for Crisis Psychology. “For the victims, it will stir up quite a bit of emotion and bring back a lot of pain.”
That appears to be the aim of Breivik, who is scheduled to testify for about a week, starting on Tuesday.
“Your arrest will mark the initiation of the propaganda phase,” he wrote in a manual for future attackers, part of a 1,500-page manifesto he posted online.
“Your trial offers you a stage to the world.”
In a recent letter seen by Norwegian newspaper VG, Breivik added: “The court case looks like it will be a circus ... it is an absolutely unique opportunity to explain the idea of (the manifesto) to the world.”
Last July 22, he set off the bomb before heading to the youth camp on Utoeya island in a lake 40 km (25 miles) outside Oslo, gunning down his victims while police took an hour to get to the massacre site in the chaos following the blast.
Breivik has said he intended his attacks as punishment of “traitors” whose pro-immigration policies were adulterating Norwegian blood.
An initial psychiatric test concluded that Breivik was criminally insane while a second one, completed in the past week, found no evidence of psychosis. Resolving this conflict could be the five-judge panel’s major decision.
If found sane, Breivik faces a maximum 21-year sentence but could be held indefinitely if he is considered a continuing danger. If declared insane, he would be held in a psychiatric institution indefinitely with periodic reviews.
The courthouse, accessible through airport-style security, is already barricaded by TV trucks as 200 media organizations have descended on Oslo, home of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The courtroom, the country’s biggest, can seat just over a tenth of the journalists, victims and relatives who may wish to attend, so closed-circuit viewing rooms have been set up nearby and in 17 other courthouses around Norway.
Some Norwegians believe Breivik’s declared strategy will backfire.
“I think having the stage will hurt him more than it will build him up,” said Bjoern Ihler, 20, a survivor of the shootings on Utoeya island. “The more he talks, the less dangerous he will seem. People will realize that his ideas are not of this world.”
Breivik’s proposed witnesses include Mullah Krekar, the Kurdish founder of Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, who was recently jailed in Norway for making death threats, and “Fjordman”, a right-wing blogger and influence on Breivik.
Norway’s legal system gives defendants wide leeway to defend themselves as they wish, but judges cam trim the witness list.
Left-wing activist Stein Lillevolden, who received a summons to testify, said he would not go willingly. “I ... refuse to be dragged around the circus tent like some clown in his bizarre delusions,” he wrote recently in Aftenposten newspaper.
The trial will also examine Breivik’s initial claim that he was part of an organization of “Knights Templar” with similar views. Police said evidence now points to solitary attacks by Breivik after years of radicalization.
Lone wolf attackers have become an increasing security risk worldwide, with U.S. President Barack Obama last year saying they now pose a greater danger than large, coordinated actions.
Editing by Alistair Scrutton and David Stamp