Endorsement by mass murderer exposes EDL to fresh scrutiny

Matt Blake and Nigel Morris report on the domestic implications of Norway's tragedy

If the English Defence League is feeling bruised by the barrage of publicity over the interest that the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik has shown in the group, its leaders were not betraying any misgivings yesterday.

Quite the reverse. The far-Right organisation appeared unrepentant over the furore as it took the opportunity to promote its anti-Islamist agenda.

In a posting on its website, the EDL published a list of newspaper articles which it claimed illustrated "the problem [of] Islamic extremism" that "we are living with every week".

It included reports of arrests in Birmingham on suspicion of terrorism, a man's court appearance at the Old Bailey on charges of funding terrorist training in Somalia, and arrests of Britons in Afghanistan. The anonymous author wrote: "In a week that has seen such a terrible act of terrorism in Norway, we almost decided against publishing the following short article. But that would be to do a disservice to all those who continue to suffer as a result of Islamic extremism."

He added: "Now, therefore, is as good a time as any to continue to highlight cases of Islamic extremism."

Detectives are probing Breivik's boasts that he met "tens of EDL members and leaders" in the decade leading up to Friday's massacre. He claimed in his 1,500-page "manifesto", posted online, to have visited Britain twice since 2002 to attend EDL rallies and had more than 600 EDL supporters as Facebook friends.

Police in Britain and Norway are also investigating his claims to have met a group of ultra-nationalists in London nine years ago at which they vowed to resist the spread of Muslim influence across Europe.

Scotland Yard is understood to be probing whether he met former members of the Neo-Nazi groups Combat 18 and Column 88 – both now considered defunct – at that time.

However, security sources believe that Breivik is most likely to have been a lone wolf similar to David Copeland, the London "nailbomber" who killed three people in 1999, and suspect that his assertion to have been part of a far-Right uprising is fantasy.

But the resultant publicity has left the EDL – which is known to be infiltrated by Special Branch and the security services – in an unprecendented media spotlight. With its links to football hooliganism, it had been previously most associated with street protests sometimes degenerating into violence.

Founded in 2009 by Stephen Lennon, who was this week convicted of leading a group of Luton Town supporters in a massive street brawl, the EDL repeatedly stresses it is only concerned with fighting "militant Islam".

Its leading figures, none of whom have experience in mainstream politics, operate as a loose network.

On Monday, Mr Lennon made a rare foray before the television cameras to ridicule suggestions of links with Breivik, suggesting the EDL is changing its strategy in dealing with the media.

A tetchy encounter with Jeremy Paxman on BBC2's Newsnight left him forecasting that similar attacks could take place in the UK if the right of peaceful protest was taken away: "You need to listen because, God forbid, this ever happens on British soil... it's the time coming... you're probably five or 10 years away."

Mr Lennon portrayed his organisation as a working-class movement speaking up for a disenfranchised section of society ignored by the political classes. It is a similar pitch to the message of the British National Party as it chalked up a series of victories at the ballot box, culminating in the election of two Euro MEPs in 2009.

According to one government source, the similarity is not coincidental. He said: "The EDL are filling the void left by the BNP which is basically imploding. I am afraid there will always be some sort of space for the far Right. They take care to say they are not racist, but of course you don't have to scratch the surface much to reach a different conclusion."

Populist political groups distance themselves from 'lunatic' Breivik

Russia

Comments made by Anders Breivik in praise of Vladimir Putin were yesterday dismissed as the "ravings of a lunatic" by a spokesman for the Russian Prime Minister. Mr Breivik described Mr Putin as "a fair and resolute leader worthy of respect" in his 1500-page manifesto. He also lauded the pro-Kremlin group Nashi (meaning "Our People") and called for Norway to form a similar youth movement. A spokeswoman for Nashi, which some have compared to the Hitler Youth, said it would not respond to "the opinions of a madman".

France

Known for her tough stance on immigration, Marine Le Pen, leader of France's National Front, was quick to state that her party had "nothing to do with the Norwegian slaughter, which is the work of a lone lunatic who must be ruthlessly punished". But an official close to Ms Le Pen was tweeting that the attacks could be explained by the fact that immigration to Norway increased six fold since 1980.

Netherlands

Mr Breivik also wrote of his admiration for Geert Wilders, the inflammatory leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, who once proposed a ban on the Koran and likened the sacred Islamic text to Hitler's Mein Kampf. Mr Wilders denounced the gunman in a statement released on Saturday, calling him a "violent and sick character" and offering his party's "condolences to all the families of the victims and to the Norwegian people".

Sweden

Jimmie Akesson, head of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, was also keen to distance his party from the attacks. He called the killings "an attack on the entire democratic society".

Australia

The former Australian prime minister John Howard was listed among those Mr Breivik admired. The Norwegian praised Mr Howard for urging Muslims to adopt Australian values, and lauded three other conservative leaders in Australia for what he saw as their defensive attitudes towards their nation's borders. One of the men mentioned, the former treasurer Peter Costello, told Australia's ABC News network: "Nothing justifies [the attacks] and certainly not his deluded rantings about Islam or political correctness. My sympathy goes out to the victims of this despicable act."

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