Psychotic or not? The experts are still divided

Tony Paterson explains what we've learnt about the man who killed 77 people

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The Independent Online

During the 10-week trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer was likened to Hannibal Lecter, the brilliant psychiatrist turned flesh-eating cannibal who starred in the 1991 Hollywood horror movie The Silence of The Lambs.

The comparison was drawn by prison psychiatrist Arnhild Flikke. She interviewed Breivik shortly after his twin terror attacks last July in which he killed eight in a bomb blast in central Oslo and subsequently massacred 69 young people attending a political summer camp on the island of Utoya.

Breivik had been "upset", Ms Flikke said, because he had shot and killed a civilian on Utoya island, whom he had initially taken to be an "enemy" policeman. In her view, such a reaction was typical for a political extremist, even one who claimed in a 1,500-page "manifesto" that he was "fighting a war" against the Muslim domination of Europe and had chosen to kill young Norwegian Labour party members because they were ambassadors of the multiculturalism he so despised.

Oslo's judges now face the momentous task of delivering a just verdict in August. But battle lines have been drawn. One group of psychiatrists has concluded Breivik is psychotic and schizophrenic. Another maintains he is sane.

The prosecution insists that as doubts remain about Breivik's sanity, he should be committed to psychiatric care. His defence lawyers maintain that their client is sane and no different from other extremists and should therefore be sent to prison.

The difficult decision facing Norway's judges is further complicated by the fact that there is little in Breivik's biography which hints at a reason or motive for his acts of unspeakable terror. Until a tipping point, which appears to have occurred sometime between 2002 and 2006, he was a normal and unspectacular product of middle-class Norwegian society. Breivik's court appearances have, if anything, added to his aura of middle-class respectability: the dark suits, perfectly parted hair and carefully trimmed beard.

Breivik was raised and went to school in the comparatively affluent Oslo district of Skoyen. He grew up in a modern housing estate popular with young professional parents. He was born in February 1979, the son of Jens Breivik, a career diplomat, and Wenche Breivik, a nurse. Both were Norwegian Labour party supporters.

His parents divorced when Breivik was one and he lived thereafter with his mother, who worked at Norwegian embassies in Paris and London. He maintained only sporadic contact with his father and that came to an end when Breivik was 15.

After a normal middle-class Norwegian childhood, inset, things started to unravel after school. Following a brief army stint, he shifted from one job to the next.

As a teenager he joined a graffiti-spraying gang and clashed with Pakistani youths whose violence, he said, scared him. When in the army he joined the youth organisation of Norway's right-wing Progress party and remained a member for 10 years before resigning because he felt organisation was "too much part of the establishment". Up to this point there was nothing to indicate that he would eventually commit mass murder. But something happened in 2002. In that year he claims to have visited London and Liberia to attend what he insists were founding meetings of an anti-Muslim crusade. During his trial prosecutors cast doubt on his version of events.

His last job was as head of a small company which provided bogus diplomas. It earned him sufficient cash to stop working and eventually devote himself full time to terrorism.

His tipping point may have occurred in 2006, the year that he has described as the "martyrdom year" in which he claims to have spent 16 hours a day playing the World of Warcraft online game. There is no evidence that he ever had a girlfriend.

His bank details reveal that a year later in 2007, a sum equivalent to €80,000 (£65,000) was suddenly added to his account. From then on he appears to have devoted himself to his bizarre "manifesto" in which he claims to be the founding member of the Norwegian Knights Templar, a far-right group bent on halting a presumed imminent "Muslim domination" of Europe by violent means.

Prosecutors have said they do not believe the group exists. But Breivik had his own Knights Templar uniform made and posted online photographs of himself wearing it. Breivik then began to assemble an arsenal of weapons and moved back to his mother's flat in Skoyen. His political activism drove a wedge between him and his mother. The two fell out and he refused to speak to her.

By then, Breivik was renting a farm where he built his bomb from chemicals and fertilisers. He completed his preparations in May last year and on 22 July, he struck.

"Even Che Guevara and Fidel Castro saw it as their right to take Cuba," Breivik told the court in an attempt to justify his actions. Some psychiatrists argue that such delusions of grandeur make Breivik's sanity questionable. Others say he is not so much a Hannibal Lecter as an Adolf Eichmann – just plain evil.

Victims' voices: The bereaved and a survivor

Unni Espeland

"The question is not whether he is criminally responsible or not," said Ms Espeland, whose daughter Andrine was killed on Utoya. "The important thing is that he never comes out – that we never have to cross his path in the street."

Bjorn Ihler

A survivor of the Utoya attack, Mr Ilher said of Breivik: "Now it's just a pathetic man sitting there." Speaking to CNN, he added: "I am still alive, I'm a survivor not a victim, and I will live on and fight on to work against future extremist acts."

Kirsti Loevlie

"I am not going to be afraid of this man. I decided I would go to court. I felt I owed it to Hanne," said Ms Loevlie, referring to her 30-year-old daughter who died in the attacks. "This is my court. This man will no longer scare me."

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