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Confessed Killer Of 77 Goes On Trial In Norway


Now, the man who has confessed to carrying out Norway's worst peacetime atrocity goes on trial today. Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist, raised his fist in a Nazi-style salute after bailiffs removed his handcuffs in the courtroom. Breivik has told authorities he acted to protect Norway from Muslims. The rampage in Oslo and at a youth camp left 77 people dead and dozens injured. NPR's Eric Westervelt is in Oslo and reports that the central issue for judges will be Breivik's mental health.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Trond Blattmann says the trial will be, in his words, 10 weeks of hell. Blattmann's face, dark circles under his eyes and sad expression, testifies to the pain he's carried since last July 22nd, when Anders Breivik made his way to the island where Blattman's 17-year-old son Torse(ph) and dozens of other teenagers were attending summer camp.

TROND BLATTMANN: I lost my son on Utoya. Torse was killed by Breivik. And of course it's - it's tough. It will never be the same life anymore. But this trial, we need to have it. We need to get a conviction and get on with our lives.

WESTERVELT: Breivik's lawyers, as well as his own writings published on the Internet after the attack, say he acted to protect Europe and Norway, by waging Christian holy war against what he calls cultural Marxist elites, who, he claims, are pushing multiculturalism and the, quote, Islamization of Europe.

In the wake of the attack, Norway's Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, successfully rallied the nation to remain committed to the values of an open, tolerant society. The prime minister said the nation's response to the rampage would be more openness, more democracy, not new social controls or reactionary legislation. There was a sense of unity in grieving.

But 18-year-old Jajeet Singh, a Norwegian who follows the Sikh religion, says in his view, the old debates about immigration and religion are heating up again, and that unity has faded.

JAJEET SINGH: Because now, people are, again, skeptical of religions and all that - that we are moving back to the same place we were before the attack.

WESTERVELT: Breivik is charged with crimes including terrorism. The maximum sentence if convicted is 21 years, though under Norwegian law, it is possible the sentenced could be prolonged if the inmate is deemed a danger to society.

The trial is sure to raise more uncomfortable questions about the police and security services' delayed and clumsy response to the attack. Breivik was able to drive and detonate his car bomb very close to the building housing the prime minister's office, and then easily make his way to the island of Utoya carrying weapons and ammunition. The Norwegian police's elite Delta Force Unit was called in. But no working helicopter was available. So they had to take a boat, which quickly broke down and almost sank. It took more than an hour for them to reach the island.

Norwegian newspaper commentator Frank Rossavik says he thinks the official investigation into the police and intelligence failures - due out this fall - may well prove to be more important than Breivik's trial.

FRANK ROSSAVIK: The intelligence service had no clue what was going on, and the police were very, very slow in reacting to what happened. There was no helicopter that could assist. There are all sorts of issues that will be accentuated this fall when the big report comes. Personally, I'm much more interested in that, than in this trial.

WESTERVELT: Some Norwegians are worried Breivik will use the trial as a platform to spew hate-filled, white supremacist ideology. Reporters will be allowed to cover the trial. Norway's public TV and radio, NRK, will broadcast parts of it live, but is not allowed to show the killer's testimony.

Some survivors simply want the 10-week trial to be over already. Christin Bjelland helps direct a support group for survivors and family members of the victims. Her 16-year-old son survived Breivik's rampage. She'll be at the trial, she says, as often as she can handle. Her son, she says, right now, wants to tune it all out.

CHRISTIN BJELLAND: He wants to carry on with his life. And of course, it's not healthy to shut it out, totally. But I mean, like he said, I'll never get over this. I'll have to learn to live with it. And I think that's a healthy attitude.

WESTERVELT: Because Breivik has confessed, the main issue for the judges will be his mental health. Court appointed psychiatrists have issued contradictory reports. So the judges will determine whether the 33-year-old extremist is sent to prison or committed to a mental hospital.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Oslo.

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You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.