OSLO (Reuters) – Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik was jailed for a maximum term on Friday when judges declared him sane enough to answer for the murder of 77 people last year, drawing a smirk of triumph from the self-styled warrior against Islam.
An unrepentant Breivik, 33, gave the Oslo court a stiff-armed, clench-fisted salute before being handed the steepest possible penalty, 21 years. His release, however, can be put off indefinitely should he still pose a threat to a liberal society left traumatized by his bomb and shooting rampage last July.
Justifying blasting a government building and gunning down dozens of teenagers at a summer camp as a service to a nation threatened by immigration, he had said only acquittal or death would be worthy outcomes. But his biggest concern was being declared insane, a fate he said would be “worse than death”.
Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen dismissed a prosecution call for her to label Breivik mad, a ruling that would have seen him confined indefinitely to psychiatric care rather than prison.
Some survivors of the slaughter at the Labour party youth camp on Utoeya island, and much of the Norwegian public, had been keen to see Breivik held clearly responsible for his actions – and to avoid the insanity verdict that would have prompted him to demand lengthy and traumatic appeals hearings.
For many Norwegians, still shocked by their bloodiest day since World War Two, the details were academic, however.
“He is getting what he deserves,” said Alexandra Peltre, 18, whom Breivik shot in the thigh on Utoeya. “This is karma striking back at him. I do not care if he is insane or not, as long as he gets the punishment that he deserves.”
Breivik, who had surrendered to police on the island without a fight, admitted blowing up the Oslo government headquarters with a fertilizer bomb, killing eight, on Friday, July 22, 2011, then shooting 69 at the ruling party’s summer youth camp.
Dressed in a black suit with a tie and still sporting the blond, under-chin beard familiar from the 10 weeks of hearings that ended in June, Breivik smirked when he entered the courtroom and smiled again as the judge read out the verdict.
He will not appeal, his lawyer said. “He will accept this verdict,” Geir Lippestad told Reuters. During the trial Breivik said: “I would do it again” – an attitude which, if maintained, would prevent his being released at the end of his sentence.
A lawyer for some victims and their families said they, too, were satisfied: “I am pleased, although that’s not really the right word, and relieved. This is what we hoped for,” said Mette Yvonne Larsen, who represented some of those affected in court.
“This is justice served and they are happy it’s over and will never have to see him again.”
The killings shook the nation of five million which had prided itself as a safe haven from much of the world’s troubles, raising questions about the prevalence of far-right views in a country where oil wealth has attracted rising immigration.
But the trial, which some had dreaded Breivik might turn into a “circus” of hatred, has been hailed as a model of dispassionate Scandinavian justice that offered closure to the grieving; and Norwegians refused to let fear drive them to curb their easy-going daily lives with cumbersome security measures.
Breivik will now be kept in isolation inside Ila Prison on the outskirts of Oslo inside relatively spacious quarters that include a separate exercise room, a computer and a television.
His diatribes against centre-left governments’ acceptance of Muslim immigration, spread over the Internet, and aired on television during the trial, drew support from a militant few in Europe. But even most of the hardest right-wing fringe groups kept their distance from the self-confessed mass killer.
Police found his claims to belong to a shadowy European network he called the Knights Templar, a nod to the mediaeval Crusader order, were probably the imaginings of an angry loner.
Norway’s anti-immigration Progress Party, which Breivik had once briefly joined, suffered in municipal elections after the massacre, forcing the second biggest party in parliament to tone down its rhetoric. Opinion poll support for liberal immigration policies even grew and the attack brought many young people, now often referred to as the Utoeya generation, into politics.
Although his victims were mostly teenagers, with some as young as 14, he rejected being called a child murderer, arguing that his victims were brainwashed “cultural Marxists” whose political activism would adulterate pure Norwegian blood.
He stalked his victims dressed as a policeman, tricking them into thinking he was the help sent from the shore after the initial attack. He then shot them from close range before finishing them with a shot to the head.
“I stand by what I have done and I would still do it again.” he said during his court testimony.
Breivik, a high school dropout who once spent an entire year devoting himself to computer games, suffered troubles from early childhood and a psychiatric evaluation proposed removing him from his family, a verdict social workers finally rejected.
After business failures and frauds that included selling fake diplomas and a diamond scam in Liberia, he moved back in with his mother in 2006. It was then, she said, that he became obsessed with politics and changed from a “kind and caring” son to becoming “completely crazy”.
Some Norwegians now believe their country must draw on the experience to debate issues like immigration, and a commission investigating the attack also concluded the country need radical changes, including gun controls and more sweeping police powers.
Still, very little has changed over the past year; ministers still walk the streets of Oslo without bodyguards and private cars can drive right up to the parliament building.
“This attack has not in any way succeeded in redefining our liberal democracy,” said Oslo University philosophy professor Lars Fredrik Svendsen. “The Norwegian judicial system has shown itself as rock solid during this trial.”