It was the decision many Norwegians were hoping for, 13 months after their country’s worst peacetime massacre. It was also the verdict that the killer himself wanted.
With a smile verging on a smirk, Anders Behring Breivik listened to a panel of Norwegian judges declare Friday that he was sane and therefore criminally responsible for twin attacks in Norway last year in which 77 people died, many of them teenagers whom he methodically hunted down and shot at close range.
In Breivik’s mind, the bloodbath was a perfectly rational act intended to ignite a revolution by Christian Europe against a Muslim takeover — with himself cast as a crusading knight.
But the 33-year-old Breivik now faces at least 21 years behind bars, the maximum allowed under Norwegian law.
The prison term can be renewed repeatedly if Breivik is deemed a threat to society, however, so it’s highly possible, even probable, that he will never walk free again.
After the verdict was read out, Breivik tried to “apologize to all militant nationalists in Norway and in Europe” for not having slain more people, but the presiding judge cut him off. Breivik said he did not recognize the Oslo court’s authority but that he would not appeal its decision, because that would “legitimize the court.”
Then, getting up from the table, he brought his fist to his chest and swept his arm out in a right-wing salute.
Whether consciously or not, the five judges who delivered their verdict sided with majority opinion in Norway, which wanted to see Breivik found criminally guilty of the attacks and locked up in prison rather than declared insane and committed to indefinite psychiatric care.
Breivik preferred that too. He stood ready to file an appeal of an insanity verdict, an outcome he said would have been a fate worse than death, because it would reduce his militant anti-Muslim views to the ravings of a madman.
“A lot of us felt and feel relieved today,” Liv Torres, who survived the car bomb that Breivik planted in downtown Oslo, told the BBC. “It’s a closing of one chapter in this long book.”
The huge blast in Oslo’s government district killed eight people and acted as a decoy for the greater carnage to come on the nearby island of Utoya.
Dressed as a police officer, Breivik calmly tracked down and shot terrified attendees of a youth camp sponsored by the left-wing Labor Party, whose more liberal views on immigration he blamed for helping Europe commit “cultural suicide.”
In court Friday, one of the judges, Arne Lyng, dispassionately described the horror experienced on Utoya on July 22, 2011.
“In some places the living and the dead lay side by side. Some were paralyzed by fear as they were being shot at. Some pretended to be dead, while others begged for their lives,” the judge said in reading the verdict, which took a full court day. “Telephone calls were made and text messages were exchanged with family and friends, partly to ask for help, partly to calm them down and partly also to bid farewell.”
Breivik remained unmoved, as he was throughout most of his 10-week trial, which wrapped up in June. His only tears during the proceedings came while he watched a propaganda video he had made to spread his fanatical anti-Islam ideology.
The judges’ eagerly awaited decision followed two months of deliberation. That Breivik had gone on a killing rampage was never in dispute; at issue before the court was whether he was criminally responsible or clinically insane.
Two teams of psychiatrists presented conflicting conclusions: One declared Breivik delusional, a paranoid schizophrenic with a warped view of reality, whereas a second evaluation found him sane.
In a reversal of the usual circumstances, prosecutors argued that the carefully plotted attacks were the product of a diseased mind, while Breivik’s lawyers, on his instruction, emphasized that he was fully aware of what he was doing and had a clear, if chilling, political aim.
The prosecution announced that it would not appeal Friday’s verdict to press for a finding of insanity. Kristian Andenaes, a professor of sociology and law at Oslo University, said an appeal would have been extremely unpopular.
“Very many people want to lay this case behind them,” Andenaes said. “It’s a very hard experience for those who are victims.”
Norwegians were stunned by the ferocity of Breivik’s attacks and anti-immigrant views, which he posted in a lengthy, rambling manifesto on the Internet shortly before the massacre. In it, he urged “indigenous Europeans” to violently repel Muslims, and decried those who advocated multiculturalism as collaborators.
He claimed to be part of a shadowy network of like-minded right-wing radicals called the Knights Templar, but authorities say there is no evidence that such an organization exists.
Last week, an independent commission issued a report blaming police blunders for allowing Breivik to continue mowing down victims on Utoya for about an hour as officers fumbled their response. Norway’s police chief resigned as a result of the report.
Now the country’s most notorious convicted criminal, Breivik is to be held under “preventive detention,” imposed on Norway’s most dangerous offenders to prevent them from striking again.
He will be confined to the same three rooms he has occupied throughout the trial, including one for exercise and one for reading. His letters are X-rayed, opened and read for signs of criminal activity, and he is banned from mixing with other inmates, although “we may in due time ease up on the security arrangements and integrate him into the ordinary prison population,” said Ellen Bjercke, a spokeswoman for Ila Prison.
Maintaining Breivik in those circumstances will cost more than $1.2 million annually, more than seven times what Norway usually pays to house inmates in preventive detention, Bjercke said.
Although some foreign observers are incredulous of Norway’s lenient maximum sentence and the seemingly luxurious conditions in which prisoners are held, the Scandinavian nation prides itself on treating criminals humanely.
After 21 years, authorities can extend Breivik’s imprisonment for five years at a time if they determine that he continues to present a danger to society.