Anders Behring Breivik And The Deadliest Mass Shooting In Norway’s History

Published October 20, 2016
Updated October 16, 2018

"I would have done it again. I have carried out the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the Second World War."

Anders Behring Breivik

LISE ASERUD/AFP/Getty ImagesAnders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks, makes a Nazi salute as he enters the court room in Skien prison on March 15, 2016.

Silje Tobiassen was a teenager when her friend convinced her to join the Workers’ Youth League (AUF), the youth organization of the Norwegian Labour Party. The group held their summer camps on Utøya, an island 40 minutes away from Oslo. Tobiassen’s friend described the island to which they would travel in July 2011 as “Norway’s most beautiful fairy tale.”

Tobiassen had spent a few days on that island before a self-declared fascist came after her and her compatriots with a gun.

Utøya was so small that Tobiassen could hear screaming from where she stood on the other side of the island, the gunshots getting closer and farther away as she jumped from hiding spot to hiding spot.

Amid the chaos, she saw the shooter, Anders Behring Breivik, twice. First, she hid at the pumping station, where Breivik stopped for a moment and pretended to be a police officer, waiting for at least 15 teenagers to appear before murdering them.

The second time Tobiassen saw him, she was hiding behind a tree in a swamp, submerged to her waist in 41-degree water for 40 minutes. She stayed out of sight in the forest, lying next to a girl using heavy rocks to stem the blood from four gunshot wounds.

Eventually, help came and Tobiassen — along with other AUF children — ferried back to the mainland. Many others weren’t so lucky.

Utøya Island

KALLESTAD, GORM/AFP/Getty ImagesUtøya island four weeks after the attacks.

In the end, Breivik killed 69 people on Utøya, the majority under 20 years old, and left 110 wounded. It was the worst mass shooting in recorded history.

Another eight died from the bomb Breivik had planted in Oslo earlier that morning, its blast seriously injuring another 12 and leaving a further 209 casualties.

Between the two attacks, Anders Behring Breivik had, in one day, snuffed out the lives of 77 and devastated the lives of 319 more — and that’s not even counting those who managed to escape without physical harm, let alone the loved ones of those who didn’t.

The 2011 Norway Attacks

Oslo Bomb During 2011 Norway Attacks

Wikimedia CommonsOslo 31 minutes after the bomb went off.

Before news of the bombing broke, Silje Tobiassen was on Utøya eating lunch and Anders Behring Breivik was 40 minutes away in Oslo, prepared for his deadly day.

He drove an unmarked white van into the government quarters of Oslo’s town center at around 3 p.m. He parked, turned on the hazards and waited for 1 minute and 54 seconds. He then drove the last 200 meters to the main government building.

Breivik then parked the van in front of the building — which housed the office of the prime minister — and waited 16 seconds before opening the van’s front door. He stayed in the vehicle for another 16 seconds. Finally, he stepped out wearing a fake police officer’s uniform purchased on eBay, waited another seven seconds, and walked away with a gun in his hand.

Eight minutes later at 3:25 PM, the bomb exploded.

Shortly afterward, the police got a call about a uniformed officer, later discovered to be Breivik, entering a nearby unmarked car with a pistol. The Norwegian police wrote the license plate down on a post-it note before calling back for more information — 20 minutes later. It took another two hours for the license plate information to be broadcast over police radio.

Before that happened, Anders Behring Breivik reached the ferry crossing for Utøya with 30 minutes to spare (although it had taken longer than he’d thought to slog through the heavy traffic caused by the bomb). At the crossing, Breivik told the ferry captain that he was headed to the island to check on it post-bombing, and asked the captain for help lifting a heavy bag.

The ferry captain obliged and the two shared some small talk on the way to the island. Soon, Breivik reached the island, disembarked, and the ferry pulled away.

The ferry captain couldn’t know that the man with whom he spoke would kill his wife, the island manager. This woman, the second person Breivik fatal shot, left behind two daughters. The first person that Breivik shot was the island’s sole security guard, the stepbrother of the crown princess of Norway.

At this point, with shots fired, the AUF children started running toward the main building, away from Breivik. One girl, who had been in the showers during the initial shooting, walked calmly up to Breivik, who shot her in the head right where she stood.

For the next hour and a half, Breivik made his rounds around the island. If the children played dead, he put the barrel of his gun to their head and made sure. He rooted the children out of hiding spots, he taunted them, and he did it all while listening to music.

After he got bored, he tried surrendering to the police. He called them, but the call got dropped after connecting, so Breivik kept on shooting. He called them again about ten minutes later, but again, the call was dropped. He kept shooting.

He shot at the children swimming in the frigid water, he shot at the children sailing away, he shot the little girl screaming on the phone with her father. The bullet traveled through her temple and snapped the phone in half. The father had been having coffee in his kitchen when the line went dead.

Eventually, the police arrived on the island and Breivik surrendered. The only conflict came when the police told him to kneel and lie down at the same time. Breivik said he would comply, if they would make themselves clear.

Either way, the police could have made themselves clear much sooner if not for several rounds of bad luck. They had to travel by car from Oslo and commandeer a boat to get to the island, since their helicopter crew was on vacation. The news helicopter’s crew wasn’t, though, and they recorded Breivik executing teenagers as they ran from him on the rocky beach.

Anders Behring Breivik Nazi Salute

HEIKO JUNGE/AFP/Getty ImagesAnders Behring Breivik makes a far right salute as he enters court on April 16, 2012, the first day of his trial.

Despite hard evidence like that, Breivik pled not guilty in court. He said he was defending Norway against people of color, protecting the future of his country. In reality, a deep-seated, attention-seeking hatred — as described in his little-read, mostly plagiarized manifesto — fueled his rage.

“They [Norwegians] risk being a minority in their own capital in their own country in the future,” Breivik said during the trial. “People will understand me one day and see that multiculturalism has failed. If I am right, how can what I did be illegal? I would have done it again. I have carried out the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the Second World War.”

For these crimes, Norway sentenced Anders Behring Breivik– a man who killed and injured hundreds — to 21 years in prison, the maximum sentence any offender could receive.

The Norwegian Penal System

Skien  Prison In Norway

POPPE, CORNELIUS/AFP/Getty ImagesThe interior at Skien prison, where Anders Behring Breivik has been serving his sentence since September 2013.

What awaited Breivik in prison does not exactly call to mind places like Alcatraz or San Quentin. The country’s 4,000 prisoners take up residence in private rooms and have access to the internet and Xbox.

If they venture out of their TV-included vestibule, they can head to the communal kitchens, where they can store and retrieve food purchased at the in-prison grocery store, bought with the money made at the jobs that the prison provides. When they’re not working, prisoners can take advantage of the free college-grade education included with their sentence, or relax on the couches in the common areas next to the chessboards.

If anyone misbehaves, they’re put in a strict time-out, having their visiting hours revoked and access to recreational activities suspended. Most offenders are in there for drinking and driving — culturally, a very serious offense — or drugs.

The correctional officers supervising the prisoners have a college degree and must train for a three-year period (the equivalent requirement in the United States is 200 hours or five work weeks). On average, the Norwegian government pays guards about $60,000 a year.

Norwegian Prison

POPPE, CORNELIUS/AFP/Getty ImagesThe exterior of Skien prison.

Norway doesn’t do this because they’re nice, or because they enjoy pampering their prisoners. They do it because the Norwegian penal system aims not at providing punishment but rehabilitation; transforming inmates into individuals who can return to society as a non-threatening element.

And it works. The country has one of the world’s lowest rates of recidivism, with only 1 in every 5 prisoners coming back. Compare that to the U.S., where — in spite of obvious cultural and political differences — 76.6 percent of released prisoners are arrested again within five years.

But what do you do with the worst mass murderer in recorded history when the maximum prison sentence is just 21 years?

Anders Behring Breivik’s Future

Anders Behring Breivik In Court

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty ImagesAnders Behring Breivik smiles at a makeshift court in Skien prison on March 15, 2016 during his lawsuit against the Norwegian state, which he accuses of violating his human rights by holding him in isolation.

“Some crimes do cry out for retribution,” said Martin Horn, former New York City Commissioner of Correction and Probation. “One of the purposes of the criminal law is to impose penalties on criminals that have hurt other people that are sufficient that the survivors of the victims don’t feel compelled to take the law in their own hands.”

Given its official maximum sentence of 21 years in a cushy prison, it may seem like the Norwegian penal system doesn’t understand these concerns. But rest assured that it does.

Yes, courts gave Anders Behring Breivik a 21-year sentence for murdering 77 people. But once he completes his sentence, Breivik will stand before a board who will determine if he still poses a threat to society. Should this board decide that he is, they will extend Breivik’s sentence by five years. Once those five years come to a close, he’ll stand in front of the board again, and so on until the man’s death.

Considering that Breivik has shown no remorse and that he wrote a letter in 2013 saying how he could “neutralize” prison guards and make 10-15 deadly weapons from the materials located in his cell, it seems unlikely that the Norwegian penal system will ever deem him to be a non-threat.

Furthermore, the Norwegian authorities indeed understand that Breivik’s extremist views could poison impressionable minds.

For example, Breivik initially claimed to be the commander of a radical group plotting to overthrow the European establishment with an anti-Muslim message. While this turned out to be conclusively false — investigators found no trace of any secret Christian military order — Breivik has tried starting a fascist political party in its place.

This led to prison officials seizing Breivik’s mail after they caught him reaching out to right-wing extremists in both Europe and the United States. Officials cited fears that Breivik could inspire others to commit violent attacks, which have led to Breivik being kept in isolation in perpetuity since his arrest.

This perpetual isolation was one of the reasons Breivik sued the Norwegian government recently — and won.

In March 2016, Breivik accused the prison officials of conducting unnecessary — and frequent — strip searches, of making him eat his food with plastic cutlery and waking him up every half hour to prohibit him from sleeping. He added that they often placed him in handcuffs during his first incarceration, and that all of this comprised a violation of his human rights.

The principles of the Norwegian court system won the day, and it decided there was no reason why Breivik shouldn’t be allowed to interact with other inmates or meet with his lawyer without a glass separation wall. And because Breivik won, the Norwegian government now has to pay for his legal fees, roughly $41,000.

2011 Norway Attacks Anniversary

Aleksander Andersen/AFP/Getty ImagesWreaths are laid on the shore near Utøya to mark the second anniversary of the 2011 Norway attacks. The boat that carried Anders Behring Breivik to the island can be seen in the background.

Today, when not praying to the Viking god Odin, Breivik mainly sits alone in his cell, surrounded by the fineries which the Norwegian prison provides him. And thanks to his successful suit against the Norwegian government, Breivik may now enjoy the company of his lawyer without a glass partition as well. And yet, he remains isolated — and likely will for the rest of his days. Indeed, the last person to visit Breivik besides his lawyer was his mother, not too long before she died.


After learning about Anders Behring Breivik and the 2011 Norway attacks, find out why 30 percent of the world’s mass shootings occur in the United States, before reading why Olga Hepnarová, the truck-driving mass murderess, did what she did.

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