HE IS a man of vision. Anders Behring Breivik did not kill just any group of teenagers. He targeted the Norwegian Labour Party’s next generation of leaders.
Every year since 1974, teenagers interested in left-wing politics had gathered at the summer camp on the idyllic island of Utoya to play, debate and meet political leaders. This is where the party shaped its idealistic young. The Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, remembers it as “the paradise of my youth”.
Mr Breivik, the man who has admitted he slaughtered at least 86 of those young people and seven more in the Oslo bomb blast in what is the bloodiest day of Norway’s peacetime history, has told his lawyer the killings had been “gruesome but necessary”. He said he is willing to explain what he has done, and why, when he appears in court for a custody hearing today.
The explanation is likely to involve racial hatred and a twisted sense of nationalistic mission.
The Oslo police chief, Sveinung Sponheim, told reporters Mr Breivik had confessed and will co-operate with the hearing but said he is not accepting criminal responsibility.
Police have not ruled out accomplices, and last night six people were briefly detained and later released after an armed raid at a property in the east of the country’s capital. Reports suggest officers were trying to access chemical containers at the address.
Most mass killers are crazed; Mr Breivik, according to a manifesto he wrote on the internet, also had a political framework. In Norway his attack is being seen not just as a slaughter of innocents but as an assault on racial tolerance and the consensual values of “the Scandinavian way”.
Norwegians are appalled not just by the scale of the bloodshed but by the careful preparations leading up to it. “This thing on the island is truly sickening because the calculation which appeared to go into it is truly evil,” Erik Olsen, 44, told the Herald.
Mr Olsen had mistakenly thought he was at the centre of Friday’s violence. A public servant in the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, he works opposite the 10-storey building that houses the prime minister’s offices in the centre of Oslo. At 3.26pm on Friday he heard a large, clear crack, like an immense champagne cork popping. It became a deep boom as the soundwaves radiated out, he learnt later, shattering windows blocks away.
It felt to him like the building jumped. His window exploded inwards and a wardrobe on the other side of the office fell down. When he reached the corridor outside, it was full of rubble and clouded with smoke and dust. He says it was then he recognised the look of this: it was the September 11, 2001, look.
He and others made their way downstairs and into the street. Buildings looked as if their facades had been scraped off. “Everything was jagged and hanging loose … It looked like those pictures from New York.” Others have described bloodied bodies on the ground and torsos hanging out of windows. Seven people died and 30 were injured. But that afternoon reports emerged about Utoya, and Mr Olsen started to recognise the extent of the carnage: “It became apparent that we were the sideshow.”
It appears the car bomb was a distraction, a decoy. It also provided a ploy for Mr Breivik to disarm his initial victims and bought time for him to carry out his plans on the island.
Mr Breivik’s internet diary suggests he had been planning the attack for nearly two years. He had bought a property outside Oslo and registered a business growing vegetables. He bought six tonnes of fertiliser, a key ingredient in bomb-making.
Police believe he planted the car bomb and then drove a van to the edge of the mainland and took a ferry to Utoya.
There, many of the 600 youngsters were gathered in or around the main building, anxious for news about the bombing in the city. Mr Breivik was dressed like a policeman. He called out for them to gather around, he had news. And then he began to shoot them.
Some friends of Lisa Marie Husby, 19, had gone to greet him. Then she heard gunshots: “It was chaos and people were screaming ‘Run! Run! Run for your life!’”
She turned and fled the other way. “My friends came with me and we ran into the forest for about 500 metres with the man and the gun running behind us. We got to this cabin in the middle of the wood and then he turned and went back.”
Inside the cabin she lay under a bed with suitcase on top of her listening to more gunshots. The man came back and started shooting through the doors. She switched her mobile to silent and lay still, terrified that if he heard movement he would break in. After he left, three of her friends decided to run back to the main building. “I haven’t seen them or heard them now … everybody outside the main building was shot.”
A boy told the BBC that Mr Breivik was a methodical hunter. He checked out tents and shot their cowering occupants. Twenty or 30 were shot as they tried to swim away: “The weapons were so powerful that the jet of water was very high.”
Witnesses told Norwegian news agencies the gunman sprayed bullets into corpses, seeking out any who were still breathing. “It seemed he was enjoying it,” Magnus Stenseth, a youth leader, told the newspaper VG. “He walked around the island as if he had absolute power.”
The killing spree went on for nearly 90 minutes while the police response was delayed. They were dealing with the aftermath of the car bomb and had trouble getting a helicopter and boats.
At the weekend, police pulled 20 bodies from the water. Dozens of others were scattered around the water’s edge, covered in blankets. Yesterday a mini-submarine scoured the depths for eight or so still missing. The current death toll from the island is 86. It is expected to rise.
A criminal psychologist who profiles killers for British police and was the expert adviser for the television series Cracker has speculated that Mr Breivik was a well-disciplined man with a “slow-burn” rage against society.
Ian Stephen told London’s Telegraph that Mr Breivik’s background suggested “a very egocentric, narcissistic and disciplined man” likely to believe he was always right.
Mr Breivik is 32 and lived with his mother, who neighbours say doted on him. His estranged father said he was in shock.
“I was reading the online newspapers and suddenly I saw his name and picture,” the pensioner told a Norwegian newspaper from France, where he now lives. “It was a shock to learn about it. I have not recovered yet.” He claims to have had no contact with his son since 1995.
Mr Breivik did not shoot himself afterwards, as many mass killers do, Dr Stephen said: “It’s as if he takes satisfaction from seeing the results, and might take pleasure from being interviewed by police and getting to explain his beliefs.”
A professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, David Wilson, agreed: “This is not somebody who is ashamed of what he did.”
Others look not to the personal but to the political for explanations. Mr Breivik saw Norway’s immigration policy as lax. He apparently hated Muslims, left-wingers and the country’s political establishment.
He had previously been a member of the conservative Progress Party. The Progress Party has strengthened its position on the back of rhetoric about “sneak-Islamicisation”. It demands tighter immigration rules, whereas the centre-left government supports multiculturalism.
The young campers at Utoya were everything Mr Breivik disliked, politically and racially. The New York Times reported that many victims were the children of immigrants from Africa and Asia who had begun to stake out a greater role in Norwegian society.
Politicians have said the massacre must not be allowed to damage democracy.
First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.