OSLO (Reuters) - A report declaring mass killer Anders Behring Breivik insane, meaning he will most likely end up in a psychiatric institution rather than jail, has divided Norwegians who are still traumatised by the July massacre.
From disbelief and anger to acceptance that this may be the best way forward, Norwegians reacted strongly to the conclusions of a mental health assessment released Tuesday about the man who committed the country’s worst ever attacks since World War Two.
Breivik killed 77 people on July 22 when he planted a car bomb that killed eight people at an Oslo government building, then went on to shoot dead 69 more, most of them teenagers, at an island summer camp of the ruling Labor Party’s youth wing.
If the court accepts the report’s conclusions, Breivik would be held in a mental health institution rather than in a prison. Norwegian courts can challenge psychiatric evaluations or order new tests but rarely reject them.
Astri Krukhaug and Liv Svaba, two pensioners from southern Norway, said they were relieved that the report declared Breivik unfit to be tried as sane, a conclusion the killer himself described as “insulting.”
“It was a relief. You don’t want to be tried in the same court as him. That would soil the whole system, and would be against my sense of justice,” said Svaba in an Oslo street, as Krukhaug nodded in agreement.
“Had he been declared sane, he would have counted as one of us, he would have been like you or me. But he is against everything we stand for,” she told Reuters.
The women’s opinions were shared by 36 percent of Norwegians according to a poll conducted for the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
But the survey of 1,000 people, carried out immediately after the release of the psychiatric assessment conducted by two court-appointed experts, showed that some 48 percent of those polled disagreed with the conclusions.
“This is completely unacceptable for all of us,” said Elfete Selaci, the mother of a teenaged girl who was killed at Utoeya.
“He knew what he was doing and he planned this for a long time,” she told NRK. Her husband Bajrush added: “I feel a deep sadness in my heart. He killed so many people and to hear that he is sick...” His voice trailed off.
In an extract of the report leaked to the Norwegian tabloid VG, Breivik’s mother is quoted as saying to psychiatrists, in tears, that her son “must have been insane, given how different he had become.”
Breivik himself rejected the conclusions of the report when he was told about them late Tuesday.
“He did not seem to accept the report’s conclusions. He seemed insulted by it,” Christian Hatlo, a lawyer with Oslo police who questioned Breivik after he was told the news, told the Dagbladet newspaper. Breivik has previously said via his lawyer that he does not regard himself as insane.
Twenty-year-old Bjoern Ihler, who survived the shooting rampage on Utoeya island, said he was not seeking revenge. “The most important thing for me is not to punish Breivik,” he told Reuters. “What matters to me is that he no longer poses a threat to society.”
The 243-page report, of which only the conclusions were made public, described Breivik as suffering from ongoing paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis.
It said the killer believes in many different forms of “bizarre delusions,” including that he was chosen to decide who shall live and who shall die, and that he was chosen to save what he called “his people.”
In a manifesto posted on the internet shortly before his killing spree, Breivik declared he wanted to protect Norway from what he said was the threat of Muslim immigration.
Other sections of the report leaked to Norwegian media described Breivik’s conditions as “lifelong” and “difficult to treat” and in need of medical therapy.
The killer was also described as suicidal and at risk of killing himself and hurting others.
“He will be locked up, either in a prison-like facility or in a psychiatric clinic, for the foreseeable future,” said Mette Larsen, a lawyer representing survivors and relatives of Breivik’s victims.
“I have rarely read so clear a description of a dangerous man as we have seen here,” she told Norwegian broadcaster TV2.
Among politicians, opinions were similarly divided. Some party leaders said they were shocked given that the killer said he had planned his attack methodically over nine years.
Representatives of the ruling Labor Party, whose youth members were attacked on Utoeya island, said the court should decide the process ahead.
“The important thing is not how I feel,” said Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose office was destroyed in the bomb and who knew personally dozens of the youths from his Labor Party who were killed in the shooting spree.
“Politicians are not making this decision, this is done by an independent court,” he told TV2.
editing by Rosalind Russell