OSLO: The man in the white shirt was doomed. You knew it as soon as you saw the time he appeared on the grainy closed-circuit TV footage, walking towards the parked van in which Anders Behring Breivik had stashed a 950kg bomb.
The people watching the video in Oslo’s central courthouse knew that the blast went off at 3.25 pm. The man appeared in the video just three minutes before that.
The film showed that Breivik himself had already taken off on foot, walking steadily towards his next dance with death on Utoya Island, knowing that he had seven minutes to get out of range before his bomb’s fuse burned to its lethal end. The man in the white shirt, blurry, nameless and faceless to his hushed audience, had no such awareness.
In action movies, people are shown blown off their feet before being consumed by a blast. That did not happen here. An orange ball of flame spouted like dragon’s breath across the screen where the man had been. He was not seen again.
The blast that killed eight people was seen again, over and over, from cameras in different vantage points: the building whose windows blew out and shattered to the ground, shards of glass beating fluttering sheets of paper to the ground; the building surrounded by clouds of smoke, emerging grey and ghostly and covered with ash; the convenience store where customers ducked groceries that were flying off the shelves as if poltergeists were throwing tantrums and tins.
In court, Breivik sat impassively, apparently unmoved by his handiwork.
He seemed equally untouched by other dramatic evidence in this first day of his trial for the terrorist attacks in which his bomb and his shootings killed 77 people, mostly teenagers, last July.
Prosecutors played a desperate phone call that Renate Taarnes, 22, made from a toilet cubicle in a building on Utoya Island as Breivik systemically hunted down and killed the staff and teenagers at a summer camp for the Labour Party’s youth wing.
Taarnes, who had locked herself in the cubicle, told the operator: “There’s shooting all the time and there’s complete panic here!… There’s someone shooting, walking around shooting!”
Her voice dropped to a whisper: “He’s coming! He’s coming!”. She sobbed, and then grabbed at self-control and fell silent but for her panicked breathing.
Then the shots came. Crack crack crack crack crack. At least 23 shots were fired as she hung on to the phone and to her hope of rescue. Taarnes survived, but around her, seven people died and six were injured. In the next building he entered, Breivik killed another five. Then another 10, on the ill-named Lover’s Path.
At some point during this tale, Breivik, who has said he regrets not having killed more people, licked his lips, as if unsettled. But it was his lawyers who showed the emotion he should have been feeling; lead defence counsel Geir Lippestad looked grim and troubled, rubbing his hand over his face, and the face of second counsel Vibeke Hein Baera was crumpled with distress.
Breivik had remained blank-faced earlier in the day too, as a prosecutor took one hour and 10 minutes to read the indictment, a ghastly litany of relentless slaughter, of torn flesh and maimed lives. Every victim was named and their injuries described: Breivik’s bullets went through eyes and took sight, they destroyed arms and legs that had to be amputated, they ripped through brains and mouths and breasts and scrotums.
But the man of stone did weep at one point. The prosecutors showed a video Breivik had put together vilifying Muslims and glorifying his alleged crusade against them. To stirring music, it called for “infidels” to revolt against the domination of Islam in Europe. It showed a picture of a bloodied blonde woman with text that asked: “Has your daughter, sister or girlfriend experienced cultural enrichment by the Muslim community yet?”
As the video played, Breivik was apparently moved to tears and had to put a hand over his eyes.
He showed himself to be a man capable of being moved, but only by his own propaganda.
After all, every man has his breaking point.
First published on smh.com.au