More than a year after the worst mass killing in modern Norwegian history, a court in Oslo has sentenced self-confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik to at least 21 years in prison.
The blond, blue-eyed Breivik spent more than an hour on July 22, 2011 methodically killing 69 people, most of them adolescents, on the island of Utoeya, in what is believed to be the deadliest shooting ever carried out by a single person.
Shortly before the island massacre, he killed eight people when he blew up a bomb in a van parked in the government block in Oslo.
The massacre was “a preventive attack against state traitors” guilty of “ethnic cleansing” due to their support for a multicultural society, Breivik told a court hearing in February.
Born on February 13, 1979 in tranquil and affluent Norway, Breivik grew up without anyone around him suspecting what would one day unfold.
He has said he had an unremarkable childhood, with a diplomat father and a nurse mother who divorced when he was just one year old.
“I have had a privileged upbringing with responsible and intelligent people around me,” he wrote in a 1,500-page manifesto he published just before the massacre.
Raised by his mother in a middle-class family, he said he never had financial problems and has only one gripe: “I had way too much freedom though if anything.”
But from a young age, child welfare services were concerned that he may not have been receiving proper care.
“Anders has become a contact adverse, somewhat anxious, passive child … with a feigned, disarming smile,” a psychologist wrote when he was just four.
“Ideally he should be placed with a stable foster family,” the expert wrote in a report revealed by Norwegian media.
But that never happened. Around the same time, Anders’ father failed in his bid to obtain custody of his son.
After this episode, Breivik appeared to have a typical childhood with no major problems.
“When he was younger, he was an ordinary boy but not very communicative. He was not interested in politics at the time,” his father told Norwegian media.
Norway PM reflects on Breivik massacre
The diplomat cut off all contact with his son when he was around 15, supposedly when Anders, during a hip-hop phase, was caught drawing graffiti tags.
His old friends describe him as a discreet person, who sometimes had a hard time finding his place in the world — not at all the natural leader he presents himself to be.
He quit high school at age 18 without getting his diploma, supposedly to undertake a career in politics.
In 1999 he joined the populist right-wing, anti-immigration Progress Party and was active with its local youth branch.
He left the party in 2006, writing later on an internet forum that he felt the party was too open to “multicultural demands” and “the suicidal ideas of humanism”.
Video game training
While his criticism of Islam, multiculturalism and Marxism are all over the internet Breivik considered himself “a laid back type and quite tolerant on most issues”.
“Due to the fact that I have been exposed to decades of multicultural indoctrination I feel a need to emphasise that I am not in fact a racist and never have been,” he wrote.
“Being a skinhead was never an option for me. Their dress codes and taste of music was unappealing and I thought they were too extreme,” he wrote, adding that he had “dozens of non-Norwegian friends during my younger years”.
On his Facebook profile, Breivik describes himself as “conservative”, “Christian”, and interested in hunting and video games like “World of Warcraft” and “Modern Warfare 2”, which, he later revealed, he used to train for his deadly rampage.
According to his manifesto, Breivik began his ideological crusade in 2002 as part of the “Knights Templar” — an organisation whose existence police have never been able to confirm.
He put his plan into action in late 2009, preparing in minute detail the bloodiest attack on Norwegian soil since World War II, making sure to arouse no suspicions.
He became a textbook example of the “lone wolf” who lived a reclusive life in an apartment with his mother before renting a farm, a move that enabled him to acquire the fertilisers he needed to build his bomb.
“For me he just looked like your average guy. He could easily go unnoticed,” a neighbour told AFP news agency. “A well-kept Norwegian that no one would suspect.”
A first psychiatric examination carried out last year found him to be suffering from “paranoid schizophrenia” and criminally insane, a diagnosis that meant he would in all likelihood be sentenced to a closed psychiatric ward.
But a second opinion found him to be sane, paving the way for a possible prison sentence.
Breivik himself has said being sent to a psychiatric ward would be “worse than death”, and wanted to be declared sane so as not to damage the political message presented in his manifesto, according to his lawyers.
Even with a guilty verdict in the case, Norway is just starting to shape its future as a nation no longer isolated by its great wealth from a troubled outside world.
Norwegian society must balance its liberal and conservative traditions exposed by Breivik’s 10-week trial as it decides how to deal with security and intelligence surveillance, gun controls and rising immigration.
“The July 22 attacks were preventive attacks in defence of my ethnic group and I can therefore not acknowledge guilt. I was acting on behalf of my people, my religion and my country.“
– Anders Behring Breivik
“We are no longer so naive to believe that Norway is the best country in the world,” said Mette Yvonne Larsen, one of the three lawyers in court representing victims of Breivik’s attack.
“It has made us understand we are a part of international society. We cannot solve problems by ourselves.”
For survivors such as Khamshajiny Gunaratnam, the most pressing need is to hear the verdict after a trial that went into every detail of Breivik’s bomb attack in Oslo that killed eight, and his shooting dead on Utoeya island of 69 people, mostly teenagers.
“After Aug 24, we can be done with it,” Gunaratnam told Reuters.
Breivik arrived at the island youth camp of the ruling Labour Party dressed as a policeman. He regarded his victims, the youngest of whom was 14, as brainwashed “cultural Marxists” whose support for Muslim immigration threatened Norwegian ethnic purity.
Gunaratnam, aged 24, escaped the massacre by jumping into icy lake waters and swimming for her life. She survived because Breivik was busy shooting her friends in the head at point blank range, presuming she would drown.
During the trial Breivik coldly recounted the manner in which he had shot his victims and used the fake police uniform he wore to trick people into coming out of hiding before shooting them at close range.
The harrowing accounts of survivors and the testimony of families of the victims moved many to tears, including the panel of five judges.
In his final remarks to the court, the 33-year-old Breivik said “The July 22 attacks were preventive attacks in defence of my ethnic group and I can therefore not acknowledge guilt. I was acting on behalf of my people, my religion and my country. I therefore demand that I be acquitted.” Norway’s courts have decided otherwise.