By Mark Townsend –
Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian far-right extremist, has been sentenced to at least 21 years in prison after a court declared he was sane throughout his murderous rampage last year that killed 77 people.
The court’s decision will have delighted Breivik, who had hoped to avoid what he called the “humiliation” of being dismissed as a madman.
The mass killer had desperately hoped the court would find him criminally culpable for the killings, claiming they were “cruel and necessary” to protect Norway from becoming overrun by Muslims.
After two months of deliberations, the five-judge panel told a packed Oslo courtroom they considered the perpetrator of last year’s gun and bomb attacks, the worst in the country’s history, mentally fit enough to be held criminally responsible for the attacks, which also left 242 wounded.
Breivik is almost certain to end his life in prison. Although Norway has a maximum prison sentence of 21-years, Breivik could be sentenced to “preventive detention”, which can be extended for as long as an inmate is considered dangerous to society.
The verdict of the most high-profile criminal trial in Norway since Nazi collaborators were prosecuted following the second world war is certain to provoke a strong response.
Most Norwegians, including the victims’ families, had wanted Breivik to be found sane so he could be held accountable for what they view as a political crime.
The decision also means there will be no appeal, Breveik’s lawyer, Geir Lippestad, having promised the gunman will not contest a jail sentence.
Breivik has readily admitted to carrying out the twin attacks that shocked the famously peaceful country on 22 July 2011.
After setting off a 950kg car bomb outside government headquarters in Oslo, Breivik went on a shooting rampage on Utoya island, where youth members of the governing Labour party had gathered for their annual summer camp.
Eight people died in the bombing and 69 – 34 of them aged between 14 and 17 – were killed in an attack that lasted over an hour.
The gunman, who has shown no remorse throughout his 10-week trial, has described how he reloaded his semi-automatic rifle while victims sat waiting for him to kill them.
The decision overrides the findings of a report by court-appointed psychiatrists submitted before the start of the trial, which claimed Breivik suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
That claim, if accepted by the court, would have relieved Breivik of his legal responsibility for the crime and ensured his detention in a specially built psychiatric unit inside Ila prison, just outside Oslo.
Breivik will, however, still end up in the same jail, where he has been held in isolation for most of the time since his arrest.
It is understood he could challenge a “preventive detention” sentence every five years.
One of the reasons Breivik’s attacks were presented in such graphic 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.