Norwegian gunman to plead not guilty

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by a Newsnet reporter

Gunman Anders Behring Breivik is expected to plead not guilty during his court appearance scheduled for today, Monday, in Oslo.  Although Breivik acknowledges that he set off the explosion and carried out the massacre of 93 of his fellow citizens, he denies criminal responsibility.

In an interview on Norwegian television on Sunday, Mr Breivik’s state appointed lawyer Geir Lippestad said that his client intended to base his defence on a claim that his actions were “necessary”.  

Mr Lippestad said: “He thought it was gruesome having to commit these acts, but in his head they were necessary.”  

Mr Lippestad added that his client wanted force a revolution in Norwegian society and had “confessed to the factual circumstances” of the atrocities but denied criminal responsibility.

“He wanted a change in society and, from his perspective, he needed to force through a revolution.  He wished to attack society and the structure of society,” Mr Lippestad said during the interview.

It is believed that Breivik imagined himself to be on a ‘crusade’ against what he regarded as the ‘threat’ posed to Norway by multiculturalism.  For this reason he had targetted the Norwegian Labour party, which he held responsible for introducing multiculturalism to Norway.  

It emerged over the weekend that Breivik had links to far right wing organisations in the United Kingdom, and thought especially highly of the English Defence League.  Breivik praised the organisation in a rambling 1,500 page “manifesto” he published online to coincide with the attacks.  Breivik further claimed that an unnamed British right wing extremist was highly influential in determining his thinking.  

The English Defence League has published a statement on its website denying that it had any links with Breivik and condemning his actions in the strongest terms.

Norwegian police are currently focussing their investigation on establishing whether Breivik acted alone or if he had accomplices.  

Speaking to the Observer newspaper yesterday, Dr John Bew, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London, said that in recent years the security services had lost their focus on far-right extremism, with research into Islamism taking precedence.  “We have looked at lone wolves in relation to Islamism but I think we haven’t taken far-right extremism seriously enough,” said Dr Bew.

This is not the first time that extreme right wing groups or individuals have committed a terrorist atrocity killing scores of people.  In April 1995 Timothy McVeigh and a group of associates detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah US government building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680.  McVeigh was sentenced to death for his part in the outrage, and was executed by lethal injection in 2001.

Even though this is the greatest atrocity to have taken place in Norway since the Nazi occupation, under Norwegian law the maximum sentence for any crime is 21 years.  However serious offenders must prove that they are no longer a risk to the public before becoming eligible for parole.  If the prisoner is still considered a risk to the public, an extra 5 years ‘containment’ can be added to the sentence.  This period can be renewed when it expires.  Given the seriousness of Breivik’s crimes, it is likely that, if found guilty, he will never be released.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said this weekend that the enormous nature of the crime meant that the country’s penal system may have to be re-examined.