A nation waits with bated breath to discover killer's fate


Builders have been hard at work inside Oslo's daunting Ila prison complex where Norway's self-confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik will likely be sentenced to spend the rest of his life by a panel of black-robed judges during a six-hour court hearing today.

The 1930s high security facility stands isolated among pine-covered hills north of the capital and one wing of the jail has just been converted into a fortified one-man psychiatric unit, staffed by a medical team of 17 and costing some three million Norwegian Kroner (£320,000) a year.

The work has been carried out to meet the legal requirements set out in the judges' verdict, whatever it may be. There are two possibilities: either the man responsible for Norway's worst acts of violence since the Second World War will be declared mentally fit or insane.

Psychiatrists have remained at loggerheads over the question of Breivik's sanity since his 10-week trial came to an end in June. They asked whether a 33-year-old far right anti-Muslim extremist who killed eight with a bomb in central Oslo and then went on to slaughter 69 mostly teenaged members of the Norwegian Labour party in a shooting spree, could possibly be considered normal.

One team of doctors concluded that Breivik suffered from schizophrenia and paranoid psychosis. But after further detailed examination and regular meetings with the killer, another group of psychiatrists found no evidence of insanity. The court's judges must decide one way or the other. Norway awaits their answer with bated breath.

Whatever the verdict, Breivik will not be moving far. Either he will remain incarcerated in his current Ila three-cell unit for sane offenders or he will be shifted to the prison's new purpose-built facility for the mentally impaired. "This is about creating a humane prison regime," is how a prison spokesman put it.

But both verdicts present major political and psychological headaches for Norway – a country which until Breivik's attacks on 22 July last year – considered itself among the most tolerant and peaceful in the world.

Breivik has insisted all along that he is sane and complained that to be declared mentally ill would be a "fate worse than death".

But if judges accept his plea of sanity, Breivik will claim to have emerged the trial's triumphant victor and his gross acts of violence will be seen to have been the work of a thoroughly evil, but logical perpetrator.

The killer has announced plans to write and publish a book explaining his racist anti-Muslim philosophy and he already has an internet following: "Norway is going to be saddled with a martyr who will end up being idolised by right-wing fanatics across the world," Anders Giaever, a Norwegian political analyst and commentator told i, "Breivik will be a sort of Charles Manson figure."

Other observers such as Frank Rossavik of the respected Begens Tidende newspaper believe that judges will follow the advice of prosecution lawyers and rule that because there are doubts about Breivik's sanity, it is better to err on the side of caution and declare him insane.

"The bomb attack had some political logic, but I'm not sure about the shooting spree. Is someone who goes about spending nearly an hour shooing teenagers in the head normal?" he asked.