OSLO, Norway – Survivors of a youth camp shooting massacre that left 69 people dead in Norway testified Wednesday about their panicked attempts to hide during the rampage, as the court turned down confessed gunman Anders Behring Breivik's request to question them on the stand.
Tonje Brenna, a leading member of the Labor Party's youth wing, described how she sought shelter behind rocks on the shore of Utoya island on July 22 as her colleagues were shot around her.
"I smelled gunpowder, it stung my eyes," Brenna, 24, told the Oslo court.
Breivik, who has admitted to the July 22 massacre and a bombing in Oslo that killed eight people earlier that day, briefly interrupted the proceedings with a request to pose questions to the witnesses. When the trial opened four weeks ago, the self-styled anti-Muslim crusader pleaded innocent to terror charges — even though he admitted to the facts of the case — saying he didn't recognize the authority of the court.
On Wednesday, he said he would consider dropping his defense in exchange for a chance to question those giving testimony. When the judge rejected his request, he complained that the decision was "ideologically" based.
The 33-year-old Norwegian has showed little sign of emotion during the trial, even when describing how he shot his victims multiple times in the head to make sure he killed them. More than half of them were teenagers.
Breivik's mental state is a key question in the trial. If found guilty and sane, he would face 21 years in prison, although he can be held longer if deemed a danger to society. If declared insane, he would be committed to compulsory psychiatric care.
In other testimony Wednesday, a local resident described going out on a boat to pluck terrified youths from the water as they tried to swim away from the island.
Oddvar Hansen, a resident near the lake, and his partner had rescued three girls, lifting them into the safety of their boat, giving them their coats to stay warm. Hansen's boat was then taken over by Norwegian commandos after their own boat broke down during the crossing to Utoya.
Hansen said he was instructed to crouch low as he transported the elite squad onto the island, the first police forces to arrive there. He was matter-of-fact as he described his actions, brushing off a prosecutor's praise of his bravery by saying there were many other boat owners who had done the same thing.
Bjoern Ihler, 21, echoed Hansen's lack of bravado as he described taking care of two young boys around age 10.
Staying constantly on the phone with his own father as the group ran for their lives while hearing the shots come closer, Ihler said he covered one of the boys with his own body and held a hand over his mouth so the child would not scream, panic, run away and get shot.
When he testified at the start of the trial, Breivik described how he wore a fake police uniform and drove to Utoya where he began his massacre around two hours after setting off the bomb. He said both attacks were aimed at the governing Labor Party, which he claims is destroying Norway's cultural identity by allowing immigration of Muslims.
The trial is scheduled to conclude at the end of June.