HIS voice is quiet, so quiet he had to be asked to adjust the microphone. His tone is conversational, his eye contact with the prosecutor steady and calm, his suit and tie properly sober. But somehow, Anders Behring Breivik’s cool and collected demeanour serves only to intensify the collective nausea in the courtroom.
In the same expressionless tone as when he remarked on how well he slept the night before the massacres in which he killed 77 people last July, he told how he had planned to take a digital camera to the Labour youth camp on Utoya island — as well as a knife and a bayonet — because he knew former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland was scheduled to be there.
“I had originally planned to bring an iPhone to film and to upload film to the internet of the execution of Gro Harlem Brundtland,” he said.
“I had a bayonet on my rifle and I also had a knife in addition and the plan was to chop her head off . . . while filming it and then upload the film [to the internet].”
Filming of beheadings, he added, was “a potent psychological weapon”. Although he had taken the idea from al-Qaeda, “it’s important to point out that decapitation is traditional European death penalty method and was practised in France till 1960 and was also practised previously in Norway”.
But the battery on the camera went flat and he decided that, anyway, he would not have time to upload the video before police arrived, so he abandoned the idea.
Breivik was forced to abandon a second plan, too. He had not intended to use his rifle and pistol — with which he killed 69 people, most of them teenagers — except to frighten them.
“The objective was not to shoot all of them but to use shooting weapons as a detonator [forcing people into the water around the island] and use the water as the weapon of mass destruction . . . I considered it extremely difficult to swim away from that [island].”
But the 500 or so people on the island did not flee into the water in great numbers. Breivik instead used 183 bullets to kill 69 of them. He shot one teenage girl six times.
The objective was not to kill 69, he said. “The objective was to kill them all.”
He chose soft-point bullets because they have greater stopping and killing power and he chose a pistol and a rifle for which he could buy large ammunition magazines.
He chose Utoya and its teenagers because another political target, such as Labour Party headquarters, would have resulted in the deaths of “innocent civilians”.
The teenagers on Utoya were political activists who supported multiculturalism and 44 of them held leadership positions in the youth wing, meaning they were neither innocent nor civilians, to his mind. But Breivik said shooting people was much harder than bombing them. “To do something like what happened on Utoya is contrary to human nature and to make yourself do something like that you have to work on yourself for a very long time,” he told the court. “If you are able to train yourself into hammering away your emotions and to despise death — but even then it is difficult . . . It’s easy to press a button [and detonate a bomb] but it’s very, very difficult to carry out something as barbaric as a firearms-based operation.” He had trained himself to deaden his emotions with daily meditation and visualisation.
Of the bomb he had earlier exploded outside government buildings in the heart of Oslo, Breivik said: “The aim was to kill the entire government of Norway including the Prime Minister. That was the primary objective of the attack on government offices . . . in the best-case scenario.”
He considered that attack to have failed because it did not kill what he saw as his minimum prize: 12 people (eight died in the blast).
Hour after hour, Breivik continued to answer the questions of the prosecutor who was trying to find out what he had been thinking as he prepared for his assaults.
Bereaved relatives looked distraught at his evidence.
Lawyers, those supposedly hardened professionals, wore expressions of disgust, horror or pain. Breivik’s right hand played with a ballpoint pen. Occasionally, he helped himself from a carafe of water: thirsty business, this. A couple of times he pronounced himself tired and asked for a break.
Prosecutor Svein Holden asked Breivik how he felt now about the attack on Utoya. Breivik said firmly: “I stand by Utoya and I stand by what I have done and I would still do it again.” For a moment, the courtroom fell utterly still.
First published in The Age.