What he was about to describe, he cautioned, would be “horrendous”.
But no warning could truly prepare Oslo criminal court for the experience of listening to Anders Behring Breivik detail in a calm, blank way how he gunned down terrified teenagers in the second of two attacks he carried out on 22 July last year.
The 33-year-old spent two hours on Friday afternoon giving a bullet-by-bullet account of what he refers to as his “operation” on the island of Utøya., where the youth wing of Norway’s Labour party was holding its annual summer camp. He shot and killed 67 people on the island that day; another fell off a cliff and died trying to escape. One more, a 17-year-old called Håkon Ødegaard, drowned while attempting to swim away.
Leaning back in his chair, twizzling a pen in his right hand, Breivik – flushed, but never losing control — told of how some of the children he killed were so paralysed with fear that he had time to reload his rifle before shooting them. He’d never seen such a thing, he said – not even on TV.
He recalled teenagers “playing dead” whom he slowly approached before shooting them at close range.
Relatives of those he had killed hugged each other. Some who had dodged his bullets stared straight ahead. There were tears in the eyes of some of the most experienced journalists in the courtroom. Lawyers bit their lips as they listened to Breivik, in a clear, measured voice, remember how he decided halfway through the massacre to “look for places where I would naturally try to hide.”
On the west side of the island, he said he came across a group “hiding, pressing themselves against the cliff face.” With nowhere to run, he was able to shoot them too. Another gang had clustered near an escarpment beneath Kjærlighetsstien, Lovers’ Path. Spotting them, he murdered five, claiming his youngest victim, Sharidyn Meegan Ngahiwi Svebakk-Bøhn, who had just celebrated her 14th birthday.
Breivik remembered campers “screaming and begging for their lives.”
One boy saw him coming and shouted “Please, mate”. Breivik shot him regardless: “I shot everyone there.” He repeatedly recalled taking what he called “follow-up” shots to ensure that those on the ground were really dead. It was just one of a string of military terminology he used on Friday to describe the massacre. He also referred to using a building on the island as a “forward operational base”. It was to there that, in one of the most tragic twists, he had persuaded his first victim to help him carry a bag containing extra rounds of ammunition.
Trond Berntsen, 51, one of the island’s security officials, had met Breivik off the ferry. Utøya’s head of security, Monica Elisabeth Bøsei, had been told by Breivik that he needed to her help to sail to the island because he was a police officer who had come to reassure campers in the wake of the Oslo bombing he had carried out barely an hour earlier. He was dressed in police uniform, and Bøsei believed him. As Breivik put it: “She bought it.” Within five minutes of Breivik setting foot on the island, both the security officals were lying dead between the pier and the so-called information building.
The maximum sentence he can receive in morally enlightened Norway is 21 years in prison: about 100 days per victim.