Norway's shooter: Delusional loner or far-right conspirator?

As they investigate Norway's worst mass murder since the Second World War, the country's police and security experts are trying to determine whether the man they have in custody is a delusional loner or a member of Scandinavia's growing band of far-right extremists.

What role did Scandinavia's growing neo-nazi movement play in the Oslo attacks?

Police searched a run-down barn on a farm that Anders Breivik rented in Rena, about 150 kilometres north of Oslo. Large bags of fertilizer were found on pallets on the grounds. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

As they investigate Norway's worst mass murder since the Second World War, the country's police and security experts are trying to determine whether the man they have in custody is a delusional loner or a member of Scandinavia's growing band of far-right extremists.

"We are not sure whether he was alone or had help," a police official, Roger Andresen, said at a televised news conference on Saturday, after police had laid charges against Anders Behring Breivik for both the bombing and the shooting rampage at a youth camp in which 76 people were killed. "What we know is that he is right-wing and a Christian fundamentalist."

As Norway's national police chief Sveinung Sponheim told public broadcaster NRK, the gunman's internet postings "suggest that he has some political traits directed toward the right and anti-Muslim views. But if that was a motivation for the actual act remains to be seen."

Anders Breivik, arrested in connection with the bombing and shooting rampage in Norway that left at least 92 dead. Shown here in a photo from Norwegian TV, July 23, 2011. (Reuters)

At this point, Norwegian police seem to be of the view that Breivik acted alone in the rampage. But they are nonetheless combing through a 1,500-page manifesto, apparently years in the making and published online just hours before the attacks.

Believed to be Breivik's, it is signed with an Anglicized version of his name, Andrew Berwick, and sets the stage for a small group of modern-day Crusaders to seize military and political control of Europe in order to save it from "cultural Marxism" and the "enablers of Islamization."

The document also refers to a secret meeting in London in 2002 to reconstitute the Knights Templar and says it was attended by similarly minded people from eight European countries, apparently including the author.

Rise of the far right

The rise of far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and, in some cases, neo-nazi groups — coalitions with names such as Blood and Honour Scandinavia — has been a constant theme across Scandinavia and central Europe in recent years.

Indeed, the phenomenon underpins much of the massively popular Stieg Larrson novels (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its successors), written by a journalist who was one of Sweden's acknowledged authorities on these groups.

European security experts have suggested that many of these Scandinavian extremists are linked and have close ties especially with the German group Aktionsburo, one of the more violent anti-left, anti-foreigner groups on the continent.

But these analysts have also been fairly consistent in saying that Norway's extreme right is the least developed of any of them.

"I am not belittling immigration and Islam as contentious issues in Norway," security specialist Christian Harpviken of PRIO, the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, told CBC News. "But the militant right here seems to have lost steam over the past 25 years."

Indeed, that seems also to be the view of Norway's Police Security Service, or PST, in its annual threat assessment published in March.

Far-right extremism, fuelled by anti-foreigner sentiment, has been on the rise in Europe for several years now. Here, a rally in Budapest in October 2009 targetting the country's large Roma minority. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

The report noted an "increase in the activity of far-right extremist circles in 2010. But then it went on to say that it felt that these groups or individuals wouldn't constitute a major threat against Norwegian society.

The report also said that neo-nazi circles in Norway are less organized and have fewer members than before.

As Harpviken sees it, right-wing extremists have been on the rise in much of Europe but not so much in Norway because "we have a fairly large and more moderate populist party that has accommodated much of the constituency that has gone to the more extreme groups elsewhere."

Harpviken was referring here to the Progress Party, Norway's main opposition party, which has taken strong positions against, among other things, what it sees as special rules for Norway's growing number of Islamic immigrants and refugees.

Breivik, the 32-year-old Oslo man who police have in custody for this week's bomb attack and shootings at a Labour Party youth camp, was a member of the Progress Party until 2007, according to party officials and media reports.

But a recent posting on an internet forum, allegedly by him, says he now feels only Geert Wilders Party for Freedom in the Netherlands is the only true party of conservatives. (A vigorous critic of Islam, Wilders has compared the Qur'an to Hitler's Mein Kampf and has tried to have the Islamic holy book banned in the Netherlands.)

If these can be believed, a long series of posts under Breivik's name on an online forum called suggest that he has developed his own interpretation of what it means to be conservative.

At one point he talks about "no-go" areas in Oslo where non-Muslims are beaten up and harassed by Islamic gangs. He then goes on to call Muslims, Nazis and Marxists (by which he seems to mean the ruling Labour Party) "hate ideologies."


So far, Norwegian police seem to be looking at Breivik as more of a Timothy McVeigh-style operator than a member of a larger militancy.

McVeigh, a disgruntled U.S. army vet and sympathizer with America's right-wing militia movement, had three associates. But he was largely acting on his own when he detonated a fertilizer-filled truck bomb and blew up federal government offices in Oklahoma City in 1996, killing 168, the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

Breivik has no real criminal record except for some minor offences, a Norwegian police officer told The Associated Press. "He hasn't been on our radar, which he would have been if he was active in the neo-nazi groups," the officer said.

Still, police will undoubtedly be questioning Breivik closely not just for motive but to see whether he might have had more than just casual help.

First off, there is the question of his allegedly wearing a police uniform during the shootings at the youth camp on Utoya Island just outside Oslo. Was it a real uniform? Where did it come from?

Then there are the guns that were used to shoot fleeing campers in an almost 90-minute rampage. According to media reports, Brevik was a member of a gun club and owns three registered weapons — a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun. Were more used in this case? Where did they come from?

More importantly, perhaps, there is the fertilizer. Breivik, who is said to own an organic farm called Breivik GeoFarm, took possession of six tonnes of fertilizer recently, the supplier told police after the bombing at the main government office building in downtown Oslo.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1996, most countries, including the European Union, instituted procedures to notify authorities immediately when large quantities of volatile fertilizer were sold at any one time. Why wasn't that the case here?