OSLO, Norway — Anders Behring Breivik knew it would take practice to be able to slaughter dozens of people before being shot by police.
In a chilling summary, the far-right fanatic claimed Thursday that he sharpened his aim by playing computer games for more than a year before Norway’s worst peacetime massacre.
Breivik told an Oslo court he took steroids to build physical strength and meditated to “de-emotionalize” himself before the bombing and shooting rampage that left 77 people dead.
His lack of remorse and matter-of-fact description of weapons and tactics — he even considered using a flame thrower — was deeply disturbing to families of the victims, most of whom were teenagers.
“They perceive him as evil and dangerous and reopening wounds,” said Mette Yvonne Larsen, a lawyer representing the bereaved. Some of them are following the proceedings in court; others are watching it by live video link in more than a dozen courtrooms around Norway.
“It’s one thing to read explanations, it’s not the same to hear a person present such a message,” Larsen said. “I am personally quite shocked.”
Norway has been captivated by the trial since it began on Monday. The public TV network NRK is broadcasting live from the court, but isn’t allowed to show Breivik’s testimony.
Pictures of the confessed mass killer, smirking or flashing his clenched-fist salute, clutter newspaper front pages. For those who have had enough of his antics, newspaper Dagbladet’s website allows users to click a button to read a Breivik-free edition.
But many say finding out what went wrong inside Breivik is crucial for the country to put the July 22 massacre behind it.
“We should consider us lucky to have this trial to uncover his thoughts and values,” said Oeystein Stoltenberg, 59.
Breivik, who styles himself as a modern-day crusader, has confessed to the attacks but rejects criminal guilt, saying he was acting to protect Norway and Europe by targeting a left-leaning political party he claims have betrayed the country by opening it up to immigration.
Since Breivik has admitted to the bombing in Oslo that killed eight people and the shooting massacre at the Labor Party youth camp that left 69 dead, the key issue of the trial is to establish whether he is criminally insane.
For the first time since the trial started, Breivik didn’t flash his right-wing salute when he entered the courtroom Thursday, heeding the advise of his defence lawyer. But those who were hoping for signs of regret were disappointed.
The 33-year-old Norwegian was ice cold when he once again described his victims as “traitors” for their links to Norway’s governing Labor Party.
“Militant nationalists are split in two,” Breivik said. “One half says you should attack Muslims and minorities. The other half says you should attack elites, those who are responsible.”
The government building he tried to blow up was “the most attractive political target in all of Norway,” he said.
He was disappointed to hear on a car radio as he was driving to the youth camp on Utoya island that the building didn’t collapse.
Breivik said he had planned to capture and decapitate former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland while filming it, but she had left Utoya earlier that day.
The self-styled crusader said he was inspired by al-Qaida’s use of decapitation, but noted that “beheading is a traditional European death penalty.”
“It was meant to be used as a very powerful psychological weapon,” he said.
Brundtland was prime minister for the Labor Party for 10 years. She later headed the World Health Organization and was appointed as a U.N. climate change envoy in 2007.
Her adviser, Jon Moerland, told The Associated Press, “Gro Harlem Brundtland has no comment on the information provided by Breivik, nor the court case in general.”
Breivik said he played the computer game “Modern Warfare” for 16 months starting in January 2010, primarily to get a feel for how to use rifle sights. In 2006 he devoted a full year to playing “World of Warcraft,” for 16 hours a day, he said.
Christopher Ferguson, of Texas A&M International University, said there is no link between violent video games and violent behaviour. Though some research suggests that action games can improve “visuospatial cognition,” he said it’s difficult to say whether Breivik could have improved his accuracy by playing “Modern Warfare.”
“Let us keep in mind too that he was shooting kids on an island from which they could not escape easily,” Ferguson said. “That does not require great accuracy.”
Breivik said his original plans were to set off three bombs in Oslo, including at the royal palace, but building just one fertilizer bomb turned out to be “much more difficult than I thought.”
His preferred targets for the shooting massacre were an annual conference of Norwegian journalists or the Labor Party’s annual meeting. But he couldn’t get prepared in time, so he decided on striking against the summer retreat of the Labor Party’s youth wing.
Breivik said he had expected to be confronted by armed police when he left Oslo for Utoya island, armed with a handgun and a rifle — both named after Norse gods.
“I estimated the chances of survival as less than 5 per cent,” he said.
During his testimony, Breivik calmly answers questions from prosecutors, except when they ask about the alleged anti-Muslim “Knights Templar” network he claims to belong to. Prosecutors say they don’t believe it exists.
When he smiled at one point during questioning Thursday, Prosecutor Svein Holden asked him how he thought the bereaved watching the proceedings in court would react to that.
“They probably react in a natural way, with horror and disgust,” Breivik said. He said he smiled because he knew where Holden was going with his line of questioning.
The main point of his defence is to avoid an insanity ruling, which would deflate his political arguments. He repeatedly accuses prosecutors of trying to “ridicule” him by highlighting portions of a rambling, 1,500-page manifesto he posted before the attacks.
In it — and in a shortened version he read to the court on Tuesday — he said the “Knights Templar” will lead a revolt against “multiculturalist” governments around Europe, with the aim of deporting Muslims.
If found sane, 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.