OSLO (Reuters) - The lawyer of a Norwegian who killed at least 76 people in a bombing and a shooting spree said on Tuesday his client appeared to be a madman.
“This whole case indicated that he is insane,” Geir Lippestad said of Anders Behring Breivik, who has confessed to “atrocious but necessary” actions, but denies he is a criminal.
The lawyer said it was too early to say if Breivik would plead insanity at his trial, expected to be a year away.
Lippestad said Breivik had stated he belonged to an anti-Islam network that has two cells in Norway and more abroad. Norwegian police and researchers have cast doubt on whether such an organisation exists.
“He talks about two cells in Norway, but several cells abroad,” said Lippestad.
Police believe Breivik probably acted alone in staging his bloody assaults, which have united Norwegians in revulsion.
Justice Minister Knut Storberget hailed “fantastic” police work after the attacks, deflecting criticisms that police had reacted too slowly to the shooting massacre.
“It is very important that we have an open and critical approach...but there is a time for everything,” Storberget told reporters after talks with Oslo’s police chief.
An armed SWAT team took more than an hour to reach Utoeya island, where Breivik was coolly shooting terrified youngsters at a ruling Labour Party youth camp. He killed 68 there and eight in an earlier bombing of Oslo’s government district.
Police are likely to release the names of the victims on Tuesday, a day after they revised the death toll down to 76 from 93, the NTB news agency said.
Storberget also denied police had ignored threats posed by right-wing zealots in Norway. “I reject suggestions that we have not had the far-right under the microscope,” he said.
Many Norwegians seem to agree the police do not deserve opprobrium for their response. At a march of more than 100,000 in Oslo on Monday night, people applauded rescue workers.
Breivik, 32, told a judge at his custody hearing on Monday that two other cells in his “organisation” existed.
However, a source close to the investigation said: “We feel that the accused has fairly low credibility when it comes to this claim but none of us dare to be completely dismissive about it either.”
Researchers also doubt Breivik’s claim that he is part of a wider far-right network of anti-Islam “crusaders”, seeing it as bragging by a psychopathic fantasist who has written that exaggeration is a way to sow confusion among investigators.
Norway has felt some relief that Breivik seems to have acted alone in trying to save Europe from “cultural Marxism” and a “Muslim invasion” by striking at the ruling Labour Party.
Storberget told Reuters television that Norway had received a “hard lesson” but would remain an open and free democracy, even as it made unspecified changes to improve security.
There would be, he said, “more openness, more political activity, a better democracy, more safety for the people, but we have to come back to the concrete measures for that”.
The Aftenposten daily said Breivik’s interrogation was moving slowly, with the confessed killer silent on his claims about sleeper cells or other potential collaborators.
Prosecutors will consider whether Breivik’s acts fall under a 2008 law on crimes against humanity, said Staale Eskeland, professor of criminal law at Oslo University.
“To kill a group of civilians systematically is the basic criteria” for charges of crimes against humanity, he said, adding that the maximum penalty for this offence was 30 years in jail, rather than 21 years under the anti-terrorism law.
In both cases the sentence can be extended for up to five years at a time if there is risk of repeat offences.
So far Breivik has been charged with “destabilising or destroying basic functions of society” and “creating serious fear in the population”. Police attorney Christian Hatlo has said Breivik expects to spend the rest of his life in jail.
More than 100,000 Norwegians rallied in Oslo on Monday night, many carrying white and red roses, to mourn the dead and to show unity after July 22. Tens of thousands of others rallied in other cities from Tromsoe to Bergen.
In signs that police are sceptical that Breivik was part of a wider network, border controls imposed on July 22 were lifted late on Monday. Norway has not asked other countries to launch probes, nor has it raised the threat level for terrorism.
Even the final entry in Breivik’s own 1,500 page manifesto says on July 22: “The old saying: ‘if you want something done, then do it yourself’ is as relevant now as it was then.”
“Intuitively, it feels like he is alone when you read the document. It’s like he’s lost in this made-up world and can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality,” said Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director at the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College.
“They (mass killers) are usually alone,” he said.
Another researcher said Breivik was disconnected from his victims. “He has no empathy, he is indifferent to the people he kills, he has no conscience and no remorse,” said Ragnhild Bjoernebekk, a researcher at Norway’s police school.
Police defended themselves from suggestions that some alarm bells should have rung about Breivik. The PST security police say Breivik’s name appeared only once, on an Interpol list of 50 to 60 Norwegians, after he paid 120 crowns ($22) to a Polish chemicals firm on a watch list. They found no reason to react.
With reporting by Walter Gibbs, Anna Ringstrom, Henrik Stoelen, Wojciech Moskwa, Terje Solsvik, Patrick Lannin, Johan Ahlander, John Acher, Jon Hemming, Mohammed Abbas, Victoria Klesty and Ole Petter Skonnord; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Jon Boyle