British actress Olivia Williams with sabre fish.
OSLO, Norway (AP) — A chapter of a terror case that has haunted Norway for 13 months ended Friday as confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik was declared sane and sent to prison for bomb and gun attacks that killed 77 people and injured 200 others last year.
After deliberating for two months, a five-judge panel in Oslo’s district court handed down a sentence of “preventive detention” of at least 10 years and a maximum of 21 years for the right-wing extremist. However, such sentences can be extended under Norwegian law as long as an inmate is considered dangerous.
Breivik, a 33-year-old Norwegian on a mission to expel Muslims from Europe, set off a car bomb that killed eight people outside government headquarters in Oslo and he then killed 69 others in a shooting rampage on Utoya island, where young members of the governing Labor Party had gathered for their annual summer camp. Breivik says he would appeal an insanity ruling but accept a prison term.
Here are some questions and answers about the case and possible outcomes on Friday.
Q: Was Breivik’s guilt in question?
A: Essentially, no. He admitted to the attacks and nothing in the criminal investigation suggests there was anyone else involved. He rejected criminal charges out of principle, saying he did not recognize the court’s authority because it represents a political system that supports multiculturalism. But that argument was highly unlikely to sway the court, and the same goes for his claim that the killings were justified to protect Norway from becoming overrun by Muslims. Breivik probably knew these were hopeless arguments, because he didn’t spend much time on them during the trial, focusing instead on trying to prove that he is a political terrorist and not a madman.
Q: What were the possible outcomes?
A: The key question for the Oslo court to decide was whether Breivik is sane enough to be held criminally responsible for the attacks. If declared insane, he would have been committed to involuntary psychiatric care, indefinitely. But Breivik was deemed sane by the judges and sentenced to “preventive detention.” Unlike a regular prison sentence — which can be no longer than 21 years in Norway — that confinement option can be extended for as long as an inmate is considered dangerous to society. It also offers more programs and therapy than an ordinary prison sentence. Norway, like nearly all of Europe, doesn’t have the death penalty.
Q: So what happens to Breivik after the ruling?
A: Breivik will be taken back to Oslo’s Ila Prison, where he has been held in isolation for most of the time since his arrest. The prison built a psychiatric ward just for Breivik in case he was declared insane.
Q: What are the conditions like at Ila? Is it like a two-star hotel?
A: Outside Scandinavia, it may seem that way, though prison spokeswoman Ellen Bjercke pointed out that the biggest hardship of being incarcerated lies in the fact that you cannot leave. The conditions inside are secondary to the loss of freedom, she said. Norway takes pride in its humane penal system, and living conditions in Norwegian prisons are probably far better than in most other countries. For example, other prisoners at Ila have access to school that offers courses from primary grade to university level courses, a library, a gym, work in the prison’s various shops and other leisure activities. Because Breivik is held in isolation, without contact with other prisoners, he doesn’t have access to those things. In compensation, Ila has given him three cells instead of one. Each is about 86 square feet (8 square meters.) One has gym equipment, another has a bed and the third a desk with a laptop computer. For at least one hour a day, he has access to a small courtyard surrounded by barbed wire.
Q: Will Breivik ever get out?
A: Legal experts say it’s unlikely Breivik will ever be released but no one can say for sure. One thing is certain though: it won’t happen for as long as Norwegian authorities consider him dangerous to society. In theory, a patient committed to involuntary psychiatric care should be released if he recovers from the mental illness. But if he’s still considered dangerous, he can be transferred to prison under a rarely used Norwegian law. If sent to prison, Breivik could challenge a “preventive detention” sentence every five years. One of the reasons Breivik’s attacks were presented in such gruesome detail during the trial was so that the horror of Oslo and Utoya would be well-documented for the day Breivik asks to be released. “Legally speaking, he could of course theoretically be a free man in some years. But realistically speaking he would be incarcerated for perhaps the rest of his life,” said Lasse Qvigstad, a former Oslo chief prosecutor.
Q: How does the appeals process work?
A: In Norway, both prosecutors and the defendant can appeal all or parts of the ruling. Breivik’s lawyer said Thursday that he will appeal if he’s declared insane but would accept a prison term. An appeals trial would likely be held early next year.
Q: So why does Breivik want to be sent to prison? Wouldn’t he get off easier with an insanity ruling?
A: Breivik wants to be seen as a political terrorist, or as he calls himself, a “militant nationalist.” During the trial he said that being sent to an insane asylum would be the worst thing that could happen to him and accused Norwegian authorities of trying to cast him as sick to deflate his political views. His lawyers say Breivik is already at work writing sequels to the 1,500-page manifesto he released on the Internet before the attacks.
Associated Press writer Julia Gronnevet and AP senior producer David Mac Dougall contributed to this report.
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