A nation's enemy within: The far-right loner who wiped out nearly 100 souls

Anders Behring Breivik 'wants to explain himself', say police. Neightbours describe him as 'just an ordinary guy '

What turns a seemingly gentle man, doted on by his elderly mother, into one of Europe's worst modern-day mass murderers? With Anders Behring Breivik's piercing blue eyes, pale complexion and blond locks, it has been hard for Norwegians to answer the question; even harder to stomach that one of their own could have turned on them so brutally.

In the space of little more than two hours, this quiet 32-year-old loner brought carnage of a kind unseen before to a nation that is rightly proud of its reputation for peace, openness and tranquillity. The man who didn't say much was keen to talk yesterday. "He wants to explain himself," said a police spokesman. Breivik was looking forward to his moment; he had forced the eyes of the world to turn his direction by killing nearly 100 people with bullets and a bomb. Last night he was charged in connection with the attacks as the death toll was inching grimly towards 100.

The tragic events began with an explosion in downtown Oslo and ended with a 90-minute killing spree at a youth summer camp. Survivors emerged of the terrifying moment they heard the killer approaching. As dawn broke over the island yesterday, the full horror became clear. Bodies littered the water's edge.

Norway's king and queen joined the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, to lead the nation of five million Norwegians in mourning. Shocked residents gathered at Oslo cathedral, while in London at the Norwegian embassy the flag flew at half mast. Around the world, political leaders vowed to stand side by side with the Norwegian people. David Cameron branded the attacks "horrific" and offered Britain's help as Europol announced it was setting up a task force of more than 50 experts to assist northern European countries in investigating terrorism. Finland announced a review of its gun laws.

The image that has begun to emerge is of a man with a disconnected and shadowy past. A loner who had few friends, he seemed to spend much of his spare time frequenting internet forums for far-right activists, neo-Nazis and Christian fundamentalists. A former member of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party, Breivik loved violent video games and said his favourite TV show was Dexter, the popular HBO drama about a serial killer who murders evil people.

But there is still much confusion about how such an individual could turn from an angry blogger into the perpetrator of Norway's largest death toll since the Second World War and the single biggest act of mass violence in Europe since the Madrid train bombings 2004.

Unlike many mass murderers, who kill themselves rather than be taken, Breivik surrendered to police. And unlike the victims of the past killers, his were not randomly slaughtered, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Each was targeted for their links to Norway's Labour Party. Explosions ripped through government buildings in downtown Oslo, while on the island of Utoya, where the party's youth movement had gathered for a summer camp, he asked trusting teens to gather round, before gunning them down. "There was joy, there was summer football," recalls Jonas Gahr Store, Norway's foreign minister. And then the camp was "struck with this hideous act of violence". Mr Stoltenberg said: "A youth paradise has been transformed into a hell."

In the suburb of Oslo where Breivik is known to have spent much of his time with his mother, a feeling of shock and disbelief had descended upon the area, an affluent corner to the west of the city centre. Police spent yesterday searching a flat that tax records show was owned by Breivik and his elderly mother, Wenche Behring.

Caroline Slatti, 22, a neighbour who lives in the same block of flats on Hoffsveien, remembered a quiet but unremarkable man with a sociable mother who tended to his every need. "He looked like an ordinary guy, he was just like anybody else," she said. "I didn't know him all that well but his mother is really friendly. She dotes on him and always talks about him."

At the back of the mall opposite the flat is a café where many of the area's retirees, including Breivik's mother, would come for a daily coffee. Stephan Imbernon, a French-born 34-year-old waiter, recalled how Mrs Behring had been in the cafe at the time her son began his rampage. "She was sitting there for around two or three hours," he said. "It's horrible. People feel very sad for this woman because everyone knows her."

The contrast with her son could hardly be more stark. Norwegian police have been wary of speculating on what might have caused or triggered Breivik's murderous plans. But they have pointed towards regular writings on far-right forums which vented spleen against immigrants, Muslims and Norway's centre-left coalition government.

Former colleagues at the call centre of the phone company Telia, where Breivik worked from 1999 to 2003, remembered him as being very quiet, calm, shy and polite. Few knew him well, but recognised his photograph immediately. "He hasn't changed in 10 years," one former colleague said.

With few friends in the real world, he appears to have immersed himself in political chat rooms. Hans Rustad, editor of one forum, Document.no, does not remember Breivik being "particularly hateful" in his online postings. "There was nothing that would suggest that he was an extremist, as in the meaning of an actionist." Breivik showed up a public meeting hosted by the website in December 2009. "There wasn't anything that could back up what he said. He pretended to be someone he wasn't."

Norway's right-wing Progress Party, which has risen to become the second largest party by surfing on a wave of growing anti-immigrant sentiment, was forced to hastily deny that Breivik had any recent contact following revelations that he had been a paid up member as recently as 2006.

"He is not a member any more," Progress leader Siv Jensen told Reuters. "It makes me very sad that he was a member at an earlier point. He was never very active and we have a hard time finding anyone who knows much about him." He added: "He had a hard time accepting our principles and our way of working because he had his own ideas. When we didn't listen to him, he walked out the door." But after leaving Progress, it is clear that Breivik had turned to more extremist politics.

As well as frequenting neo-Nazi forums, he spoke admirably of British far-right groups, eulogising both the English Defence League (EDL) and Stop the Islamisation of Europe (SIOE). "I have on some occasions discussed with SIOE and EDL and recommended them to use conscious strategies," he wrote.

On a Facebook page set up just days before the attacks he described himself as Christian and listed some of his likes, including the violent computer game Modern Warfare and Dexter. His Twitter feed contained just one message, a now hauntingly terrifying line from John Stuart Mill that read: "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests."

Within hours of his identity being released there were other signs that pointed towards Breivik's murderous intent. With no previous convictions, he legitimately owns licences for a Glock handgun, an automatic rifle and a shotgun – something that is not particularly unusual in hunting-friendly Norway – which are said to be the weapons he used in his massacre.

And then there's the bomb. Police have yet to say exactly how large the device was that detonated in the heart of Oslo's government district, but there is little doubt that it was an enormous explosion: powerful enough to kill seven, injure 30 and blow out windows hundreds of metres away from the epicentre.

To build such a device one would need space and the ability to purchase huge amounts of materials without raising suspicion. Police investigations have uncovered that Breivik owned a farm, a medium-size plot of land on the outskirts of Asta, a rural village two hours' drive north-east of Oslo. Officers began a search of the property yesterday morning.

On the face of it, the farm was meant to grow vegetables, melons, roots and tubers. But evidence is emerging of a much more sinister purpose. When news of Breivik's arrest emerged, an agricultural supplier phoned the police to inform them that six tons of fertiliser had been delivered to the farm just two weeks before the twin attacks. Mixed with the right chemicals and with a detonator, fertiliser is highly explosive and has been frequently used in terrorist car bombs. But a farmer ordering six tons would not have been enough to ring any alarm bells.

At the hospital in central Oslo where Breivik's victims are being treated, many of whom are still in a critical condition with gunshot wounds, the Norwegian flag hung at half mast last night – symbolising the collective trauma of the nation struggling to come to terms with such barbarity.

In his own words

On Islam

"I know of several hundreds of incidents where non-Muslims are robbed, beaten and harassed by Muslim gangs. My best friend when I was between 12 and 17 was Pakistani, so I was one of the protected, cool 'potatoes' who was protected. But I saw the hypocrisy up close and it made me sick."

On fascism

"For me, it's very hypocritical to treat Muslims, Nazis and Marxists different from each other. They are all supporters of hate-ideologies. Not all Muslims, Nazis and Marxists are conservative; most of them are moderate. But does it matter?"

On the church

"Today's Protestant church is a joke. Priests in jeans who march for Palestine and churches ... like minimalist shopping centres. I am a supporter of an indirect collective conversion from the Protestant church to a Catholic one. In the meantime, I vote for the most conservative candidates at church elections."

On the English Defence League

"The tactics of the English Defence League is to 'entice' an overreaction from jihad youth/extreme Marxists, something they have succeeded at several times already. The reaction has been repeatedly shown on the news ... I am very impressed with how quickly they [the EDL] have grown."

Shock, grief and condolences from the world's leaders

It's now important that we stand together and we support each other and we do not let fear conquer us.

Harald V, King of Norway

This is beyond comprehension. It's a nightmare. It's a nightmare for those who have been killed, for their mothers and fathers, family and friends. We will do whatever we can to give them as much support as possible.

Jens Stoltenberg, Norwegian Prime Minister

I am deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic loss of life of so many people on the island of Utoya and in Oslo.

The Queen

It is said that hatred was a motive. All of us who believe in freedom, respect and peaceful coexistence, we all must confront this hatred.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany

It's a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring, and that we have to work co-operatively together.

Barack Obama, President, USA

I'm horrified by events in Norway. These senseless acts are an affront to decent people everywhere. All my thoughts are with the Norwegian people.

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party

An attack of this magnitude is not something one would expect in Norway, famously associated with peace at home and peace-making abroad.

Jose Manuel Barroso, President, European Commission

The loss of life in Norway has been absolutely horrific; it's on a scale, frankly, that is hard to comprehend. The Norwegians are old friends and allies, and I know that everyone in Britain will want to stand with the Norwegian people in the days of sorrow that lie ahead.

David Cameron, British Prime Minister