OSLO: Just 10 years after carrying out the deadliest peacetime attack in Norway, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik yesterday asked a court for parole, a request widely expected to be denied. Wearing a black suit, white shirt and beige tie, Breivik, 42, appeared before the district court in the southern region of Telemark, convened for security reasons in the gymnasium of the Skien prison where he is incarcerated.

He lifted his arm in a Nazi salute to the three judges as they entered the room. The families of his victims have expressed fears Breivik would use the three-day hearing, which is being broadcast live, as a stage to air his political views, and have called for him to be deprived of the attention he is seeking.

Breivik also wore a note on his lapel and held up signs bearing political messages during the prosecutor's opening remarks, which head judge Dag Bjorvik asked him to put away. In 2012 Breivik, who killed 77 people during the massacre, got 21 years in prison, which can be extended indefinitely as long as he is considered a threat to society.

At the time, that was Norway's harshest sentence, though the law has since been changed to allow for the possibility of handing down longer jail terms. He had to serve at least 10 years before he could make his first request for conditional release.

A 'test'

On July 22, 2011, Breivik killed eight people when he set off a truck bomb near the government offices in Oslo, then gunned down 69 others, most of them teenagers, at a summer camp for the Labour party youth wing on the island of Utoya.

He said he killed his victims because they embraced multiculturalism. "As in any other state governed by the rule of law, a convict has the right to request conditional release and Breivik has decided to exercise this right", his lawyer Oystein Storrvik told AFP.

Breivik's attacks were Norway's deadliest since World War II, and his request is widely expected to be rejected. But the hearing is seen as a test of Norway's rule of law. "It is a test for all of us that a person who murdered children, who hunted down fleeing youths with the aim of killing them and who shot people who begged for their lives, should also benefit from the liberal aspects of our criminal justice system", daily VG wrote in an editorial yesterday.

"He shall have the rights conferred on him by the rule of law. Not for his sake. But for ours. No terrorist should be allowed to change the way we are governed and the rule of law that applies to all Norwegian citizens."

In 2016, Breivik-who has three cells at his disposal in prison, with a television and DVD player, a game console and a typewriter-got the Norwegian state convicted of "inhumane" and "degrading" treatment because of his isolation from other inmates. The verdict was overturned on appeal.

Propaganda concerns

In the courts and in his communications, including those to AFP, Breivik has in the past claimed to have distanced himself from violence. But Tore Bjorgo, the head of the Centre for Research on Extremism (C-REX) at the University of Oslo, said: "He has not become less of an extremist from an ideological standpoint.

"He has in no way distanced himself from the mass killing he committed and which he considers totally legitimate." The hearing is being broadcast almost live, with a brief delay in order to mute offensive remarks. There have been concerns Breivik will use the hearing to spread the propaganda he set out in the manifesto he published just before committing his attacks.

Ahead of the hearing, a support group for the families said it wanted to "encourage as little focus as possible on the terrorist and his message." "I feel it's quite absurd that he is allowed so much attention by asking for his release after only 10 years," Lisbeth Kristine Royneland, head of the support group and who lost an 18-year-old daughter on Utoya, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

The 2011 massacre has inspired other attacks, including that in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019, as well as other foiled attacks around the world. - AFP