Oslo: In a scene unimaginable in many countries, Norway`s worst mass killer got the chance to explain his fanatical views to the court and the world, unrepentant and dressed in a business suit. Prosecutors and lawyers for the families of his 77 victims even shook his hand.
Two days into Anders Behring Breivik`s terror trial, the way Norway`s legal system deals with a confessed killer who rejects its authority is baffling — even to some Norwegians.
The 33-year-old far-right militant gave a rambling hour-long address to the court on Tuesday, reading from a statement that essentially summarized the 1,500-page anti-Islamic manifesto he posted online before his bomb-and-shooting rampage nine months ago.
"The attacks on July 22 were a preventive strike. I acted in self-defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country," Breivik declared, demanding to be found innocent of terror and murder charges. "I would have done it again."
Breivik has five days to explain why he detonated a bomb outside government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight people, then drove to a nearby resort island, where he massacred 69 others, mostly teens, at a summer youth camp run by the governing Labor Party.
Breivik, who has admitted carrying out the grisly acts, boasted they were the most "spectacular" by a nationalist militant since World War II.
His victims were part of a conspiracy to "deconstruct" Norway`s cultural identity, he said. Comparing the Labor Party youth wing to the Hitler Youth, he called their annual summer gathering an "indoctrination" camp.
Breivik also lashed out at Norwegian and European governments for embracing immigration and multiculturalism, and claimed to be speaking as a commander of an anti-Islam militant group he called the Knights Templar — a group that prosecutors say does not exist.
At one point, Breivik even likened his attacks to the US dropping atomic bombs on Japan to bring World War II to an end. "They did it for something good, to prevent further war," Breivik said.
The court`s main judge interrupted repeatedly, admonishing Breivik to get to the point, but let him continue after he threatened to quit addressing the court altogether if he wasn`t allowed to deliver his entire speech.
"It is critically important that I can explain the reason and the motive" for the massacre, he said.
Mette Yvonne Larsen, a lawyer representing victim`s families, also interrupted Breivik, saying she had received complaints from victims that the defendant was turning the trial into a platform for his extremist views. But even she showed some sympathy for Breivik`s right to explain his actions.
"We understand that the court allows it, but we felt it was our duty as lawyers for the bereaved to intervene," Larsen told reporters.
Norwegian legal experts said it was important that the country`s legal traditions apply to everyone, even Breivik, whose massacre shocked this prosperous, peaceful nation.
The justice system isn`t about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment" for everyone accused of a crime, said Thomas Mathiesen, a professor of sociology of law at the University of Oslo.
"It is deeply ingrained in Norwegian tradition and fundamental values. If it lasts all the way through the 10 weeks of this trial, and I think it will, we have an important message to the world," he said.
When Breivik entered the courtroom on Tuesday, he delivered the same clenched-fist salute with his right arm outstretched as a day earlier, turning to stare at the families of some of his victims.
On Monday, Norwegian prosecutors and even lawyers representing the families of victims shook Breivik`s hand as the trial opened, raising some eyebrows. Prosecutors shaking hands with defendants would be a rare sight in the US, as well as in neighboring Sweden and other Nordic nations.
"That was a bit strange," said John Christian Elden, who represents some survivors but is not participating in the trial.
Breivik had asked to wear a uniform in court in pretrial hearings but was rebuffed, and he appeared at the trial in a business suit and tie, his thinning hair neatly combed.
"We don`t have orange jumpsuits and that kind of thing in Norway," his lawyer Geir Lippestad said. "This is a completely normal way to dress in a Norwegian court, even in a serious criminal matter."
Breivik`s lawyers concede that his contention that he acted in self-defense is unlikely to succeed and said the main point was to avoid an insanity ruling, which Breivik contends would negate his cause.
In his testimony Tuesday, Breivik rejected suggestions that he has a narcissistic personality disorder.
"July 22, wasn`t about me. July 22 was a suicide attack. I wasn`t expecting to survive that day," he said. "A narcissist would never have given his life for anyone or anything."
Some victims` relatives were upset at his testimony.
"I think it`s important to underline that we don`t view Breivik as a politician in this matter. He is a mass murderer," said Trond Henry Blattmann, whose 17-year-old son was killed on the Utoya resort island.
Some observers outside Norway found Breivik`s monologue surprising in a criminal trial.
"What I see happening in Norway with Breivik`s statement is a trial about politics, not legal evidence," said Jeff Kass, who wrote a book about the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo.
He noted that in the United States, it`s almost always the defense attorney — not the defendant — who does the talking.
"It is almost always considered a bad idea to have the defendant himself or herself testify. For one, it opens them up to too much questioning — as the prosecutor is now doing with Breivik," Kass said.
The five-judge panel hearing the case includes three "citizen" judges, ordinary people who serve four-year terms. One citizen judge was removed Tuesday after media reports said he had posted comments in an online forum saying that Breivik deserved the death penalty, which doesn`t exist in Norway. He was replaced by another citizen judge.
If found mentally sane — the key issue to be decided in the trial — Breivik could face a maximum 21-year prison sentence or an alternate custody arrangement that would keep him locked up as long as he is considered a menace to society.
If declared insane he would be committed to psychiatric care for as long as he`s considered ill.