How did a radical Right narcissist with “little shooting experience” and “no previous knowledge” of explosives carry out the most lethal lone-wolf attack in history? One answer is hateful determination; slow-burning radicalisation. To date, several accounts have stressed the importance of Anders Behring Breivik’s fascistic background and Islamophobic “community of support” in his massacre of 77 innocents in Norway on 22 July 2011.
Rather than ideology or psychology, operational strategy is highlighted here. And rightly so for co-authors from the Norwegian Police University College, one of whom was at the Oslo bomb site within 45 minutes, while the other testified for the prosecution. In this short, admittedly torpidly written text, Cato Hemmingby and Tore Bjørgo draw on 220 hours and 1,200 pages of classified interviews with Breivik to provide a rare glimpse into the “terrorist cycle” of attack preparations and logistics.
Breivik had always intended to act alone, and his preparations are shown here to have developed over several years, beginning with fraudulent online sales and an addiction to World of Warcraft. What became his 1,516-page manifesto was under way by 2006, and was later emailed to 958 fellow “patriots” across Europe just before his attack. In the years leading up to the attack, Breivik legally acquired weapons and bomb-making materials, renting a farm for cover.
Also during this time, he winnowed 65 potential attack sites down to “16 prioritized target objects”. Despite changing his mind many times, he had made his decision by June 2011. His top priority was bombing Oslo’s government district, followed by an assault on the island of Utøya, where the ruling Labour Party was holding its annual youth conference. After sleeping later than planned at his mother’s flat on the morning of 22 July – perhaps unwittingly saving many lives – Breivik took a cocktail of ephedrine, aspirin and caffeine and left for what he thought was a suicide mission.
Dressed as a police officer to avoid suspicion after he set off a truck bomb in the city, Breivik took a ferry to Utøya in order to target the 564 people there. Contrary to his hopes, only one person drowned attempting to swim the 550m from the island to the mainland. He shot 68 people to death and wounded 33 more; 33 of the dead were children, with some executed from as close as 10cm. After a 75-minute shooting spree, Breivik calmly surrendered, alleging that the fictitious “Knights Templar” were ready for yet more attacks.
Thankfully these never came to pass; nor did his trial turn into the propaganda platform he had hoped. In one of several bizarre twists recounted here, psychological reports on his mental state were conflicting, and Breivik’s focus in court was on avoiding the “humiliation” of being declared insane. He was sentenced to Norway’s maximum tariff of 21 years.
Part of Palgrave’s Hate Studies series, this book is, unusually, intended equally for academics and law enforcement practitioners. Given the barbarity of modern terrorism – by the radical Right and jihadi Islamists alike – both series and monograph make unavoidably grisly reading. But these are valiant efforts to address under-studied subjects; in the wake of the most recent terrible attacks in Paris, one hopes that such scholarship can make a positive difference.
Matthew Feldman is professor of contemporary history and co-director of the Centre for Fascist, Anti-fascist and Post-fascist Studies, Teesside University.
The Dynamics of a Terrorist Targeting Process: Anders B. Breivik and the 22 July Attacks in Norway
By Cato Hemmingby and Tore Bjørgo
Palgrave Macmillan, 141pp, £45.00
ISBN 9781137579966 and 9980 (e-book)
Published 23 October 2015