OSLO — Demanding his acquittal, a self-styled anti-Islamic militant on trial for killing 77 people in Norway’s worst peacetime atrocity took the stand for the first time Tuesday, describing the deaths as “the most spectacular sophisticated political act in Europe since the Second World War’’ and saying he would do it over again.
The defendant, Anders Behring Breivik, 33, spoke after judges permitted him to read from a prepared statement that some Norwegians feared was little more than a manifesto to propagate xenophobic and far-right views. The authorities had already ruled that his testimony, though witnessed by those in the courtroom, including journalists, would not be broadcast live.
The testimony - on the first of five days allocated to Breivik to testify in an effort to justify his demand for an acquittal - offered Norwegians in the courtroom a chance to hear him articulate the tangled, unsettling, and sometimes contradictory reasons he had advanced for the bloody attacks.
In some ways his appearance offered a marked contrast to that of the figure in dark, police-style clothing who carried out the attacks on July 22 with ruthless indifference to the mayhem around him. Sometimes rattled and breaking into perspiration, a vein throbbing in his right temple, Breivik characterized some of his previous remarks as pompous but did not apologize or show remorse.
And he rejected an assessment by one psychiatrist that he suffered from 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.’’
Lawyers for the prosecution and the defense have said that the central issue at the 10-week trial, which opened Monday, will be whether he is sane — as he wishes to be judged, since, he has said, a finding of insanity would negate his cause.
As he began giving testimony Tuesday, Breivik said: “I am a member of the Norwegian resistance movement, and as a representative I speak on behalf of Norwegians, Scandinavians, and Europeans. We demand that our ethnic rights not be taken away from us.’’
Arguing that he had acted in his country’s defense, and likening himself to US commanders who authorized the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, he said, “I ask that I be acquitted by the court.’’
He went on: “As long as you call me evil, you should call the US commanders during World War II evil as well when they decided to drop the bomb on Japan.
“But they tried to have noble motives to try to save people’s lives.’’
Breivik is being tried for a grisly sequence of events in which, he has admitted, he detonated a car bomb in central Oslo, killing eight people, then drove to the nearby wooded island of Utoya, where he killed 69 people, most of them teenagers, at a summer youth camp organized by the governing Labor Party. The youngest victim was 14.
In court Tuesday, he compared the camp to a Hitler Youth event.
Breivik said he rejected the authority of the court.
Breivik, who described his relationship with Muslims as one that evolved from friendship to confrontation, has said that he was acting for an organization called the Knights Templar, which prosecutors say does not exist. He has also said that he was acting to protest the Islamic “colonization’’ of Norway, even though most of his victims seem not to have been Muslims. He testified that his victims were “not innocent,’’ because they supported multiculturalism.
When Breivik entered the courtroom Tuesday, he delivered the same clenched-fist salute, with his right arm outstretched, as he did when the trial opened Monday, turning to stare hard at the families of some of his victims.
“I did this out of goodness, not evil,’’ Breivik said as he read from his statement, calling his actions “a preventive strike’’ and saying “I acted in self-defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country.’’
“I would have done it again,’’ he said.
On at least five occasions, Judge Wenche Elisabeth Arntzen asked him to get to the end of his statement, which seemed a condensation of a 1,500-page manifesto he had posted online before he began the attacks. But he said that, out of deference to his victims’ families, he had already cut it back to 13 pages from 20 and that he needed to defend himself.
If Breivik is found to have been sane when he carried out the killings, the presiding judges can sentence him to up to 21 years in prison, with a provision to keep him behind bars longer if he is still considered dangerous. If found insane, Breivik could be kept in forced psychiatric care for as long as his illness persisted.
Two court-ordered psychiatric reports have already reached contradictory conclusions about his sanity.