Inside the mind of Anders Breivik

As the trial of one of Europe's worst serial killers begins, the psychiatrists who have got to know him speak out. Lene Wold reports

They met for the first time on 19 February: Terje Torrisen, the Norwegian psychiatrist given the task of assessing the sanity of a mass murderer, and Anders Behring Breivik, the man who today goes on trial for one of the most shocking crimes in European post-war history.

Breivik was well-mannered and co-operative, according to Mr Torrisen: "My first impression was that he was a polite man. He was answering all of our questions and did whatever he could to make the process as smooth as possible."

Throughout the 24-hour-a-day observation Mr Torrisen and the rest of his team were able to watch and analyse how the self-confessed mass murderer eats, sleeps and interacts with others. When Breivik sleeps alone in his cell – or spends time weight-training, or reading world history – the team has always been around him, scrutinising his behaviour for more than 200 hours, building up the most complete profile of Norway's worst-ever serial killer.

"He's not like a normal person," Mr Torrisen told The Independent, seemingly stating the obvious by adding that Breivik has an extreme personality. "During conversations, he is friendly," Mr Torrisen explained. He said Breivik spends a lot of time, as he has done during his handful of public appearances, talking about his own thoughts and political opinions. He "smiles every time he discovers himself in newspapers or on television," Mr Torrisen said.

Breivik has told the psychiatrists and doctors that he is "incredibly proud" of what he has done, and that "the operation was a major ego boost, in a way I am probably a little attention-whore".

Last week, Mr Torrisen and Agnar Aspas, the other analyst to assess Breivik's mental state, delivered a report about his mental health to the court in Oslo. The report was commissioned after an earlier assessment declared him insane. According to newspapers in Norway, the new report – still confidential – concludes that Breivik has a narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder – a diagnosis that has certain similarities with other psychopaths. It concludes, however, that he is mentally fit enough to face trial

Most people who have met Breivik in prison say he seems happy, a person who wants to talk about his ideology like religious people talk about Jesus. On the one hand, he is an educated and polite man who hangs up the jackets of all his visitors, learns their names and questions their well-being. But he is also a heartless killer who discusses his mass murder as a formality; he blushes when he talks about his executions, doctors say.

Because of a lack of empathy for his victims the first forensic psychiatrists diagnosed Breivik with paranoid schizophrenia, and declared him to be criminally insane.

According to Dr Randi Rosenqvist, who has assessed Breivik, the mass murderer found it "funny" that he had been classified as being a schizophrenic. "I asked what he thought about the investigators' conclusions, and he answered almost in a humorous way that he 'didn't recognise himself at all'," Dr Rosenqvist wrote in her report.

She said that Breivik compared his new life in prison to being in a "kindergarten", where he can ring on a bell to get cigarettes.

But Breivik did not like the fact that he had been declared insane. He wrote a 35-page letter to several newspapers, listing 200 points that explained why the diagnosis was wrong.

"I must honestly admit that this is the worst thing that could have happened to me. It is the ultimate humiliation. Sending a political activist to a mental hospital is more sadistic and crueller than killing him. It's a fate worse than death."

His defence lawyer Geir Lippestad said that Breivik was "very satisfied" when he heard about the conclusions of the second examination.

But while psychiatrists and psychologists struggle to understand the personality of the man behind the attacks on Oslo and Utoya in July last year, people in Norway seem more interested in bringing him to court.

"The discussion around Breivik has been too concentrated around his mental state and not the right-wing extremist network that triggered and inspired him," Eivind Rindal, a survivor from Utoya said.

He hoped that the trial, which starts today and which is due to last for the next 10 weeks, will herald the start of a debate about the dangers of extremism in Norway and Europe, and not spark more attention about Breivik's health.

"We might never understand him, but we are going to judge him," commented Mr Rindal.

I'm still haunted: A survivor's tale

Kristian Kragh Lundø wanted to save the world; but that was a year ago. These days, mostly, he is trying to save himself. The 18-year-old is pursued by demons – well, one in particular that looms when he sleeps; threatens to return when he drops his guard. The trial of fanatical, right-wing gun and bomb attacker Anders Behring Breivik, beginning today, brings the prospect of healing; but also recollection of the horror he unleashed.

A year ago, Kristian, was a regular Norwegian teenager. His plans were no more ambitious than to enjoy a few sunny summer days at the small island of Utoya with his friends during a camp organised by the Norwegian Labour party. "We heard three shots fired, but like everyone else, we thought it was just someone making a bad joke," he says.

"Then we heard more shots and some youths came running towards us. I could tell how frightened they were by the terrified look on their faces. The sound of the shots came closer. Projectiles flew everywhere around me. I heard the buzzing sound that bullets make when they are really close to your body.

"In the period after the attack, I had trouble sleeping. When I slept, I had nightmares where memories from the island haunted my dreams. I realised that I had to take control over my own destiny if I wanted to move past what happened. That was an important step in handling the grief. I try to begin every day with a smile and with time it's gotten easier.

"I have visited Utoya once since the atrocities. I went back on the national memorial day a month after the attacks because I felt a need to. I wanted to show my parents where I had been. I needed to see the place where some of my friends had lost their lives."

Charlotte Sundberg

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