In a scene unimaginable in many countries, Norway's worst mass killer got the chance to explain his fanatical views to the court and the world, unrepentant and dressed in a business suit. Prosecutors and lawyers for the families of his 77 victims even shook his hand.
Two days into Anders Behring Breivik's terror trial, the way Norway's legal system deals with a confessed killer who rejects its authority is baffling -- even to some Norwegians.
The far-right militant, 33, gave a rambling hourlong address to the court Tuesday, reading from a statement that essentially summarized the 1,500-page anti-Islamic manifesto he posted online before his bomb-and-shooting rampage nine months ago.
"The attacks on July 22 were a preventive strike. I acted in self-defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country," Breivik declared, demanding to be found innocent of terror and murder charges. "I would have done it again." Breivik has five days to explain why he detonated a bomb outside government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight people, then drove to a nearby resort island, where he massacred 69 others, mostly teens, at a summer youth camp run by the governing Labor Party.
Breivik, who has admitted carrying out the grisly acts, boasted they were the most "spectacular" by a nationalist militant since World War II.
His victims were part of a conspiracy to "deconstruct" Norway's cultural identity, he said. Comparing the Labor Party youth wing to the Hitler Youth, he called its annual summer gathering an "indoctrination" camp. Breivik also lashed out at Norwegian and European governments for embracing immigration and multiculturalism.
Mette Yvonne Larsen, a lawyer representing victims' families, interrupted Breivik, saying she had received complaints from victims that the defendant was turning the trial into a platform for his extremist views. But even she showed some sympathy for Breivik's right to explain his actions.
"We understand that the court allows it, but we felt it was our duty as lawyers for the bereaved to intervene," Larsen told reporters.
Norwegian legal experts said it was important that the country's legal traditions apply to everyone, even Breivik, whose massacre shocked this prosperous, peaceful nation.
The justice system isn't about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment" for everyone accused of a crime, said Thomas Mathiesen, a professor of sociology of law at the University of Oslo.
"It is deeply ingrained in Norwegian tradition and fundamental values. If it lasts all the way through the 10 weeks of this trial, and I think it will, we have an important message to the world," he said.
Monday, Norwegian prosecutors and even lawyers representing the families of victims shook Breivik's hand as the trial opened, raising some eyebrows. Prosecutors shaking hands with defendants would be a rare sight in the United States, as well as in neighboring Sweden and other Nordic nations.
Breivik's lawyers concede that his contention that he acted in self-defense is unlikely to succeed and said the main point was to avoid an insanity ruling, which Breivik contends would negate his cause.
In his testimony Tuesday, Breivik rejected suggestions that he has a narcissistic personality disorder.
"July 22, wasn't about me. July 22 was a suicide attack. I wasn't expecting to survive that day," he said. "A narcissist would never have given his life for anyone or anything."
Some victims' relatives were upset at his testimony. "I think it's important to underline that we don't view Breivik as a politician in this matter. He is a mass murderer," said Trond Henry Blattmann, whose 17-year-old son was killed on the Utoya resort island.
Nils Christie, a Norwegian criminology professor, published an op-ed piece after the attacks saying Breivik should be reintroduced to Norwegian society eventually. The way Norway had responded to the attacks -- showing love for one another rather than hatred for Breivik -- made him proud of his country, Christie said Tuesday.
"Breivik is one of us," Christie told AP. "Norway is a society with relatively small divisions between people. We see each other as fellow humans even when we disagree. The horrible thing he did, he is nevertheless one of us."