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Deadly, cruel lesson from Norway


Shocked Norwegians pay their respects to the victims of the terror attacks at a makeshift memorial in Oslo. The peaceful country was shattered by a bomb blast and mass shooting on the weekend. Source: AP

The man accused of Norway's twin terror attacks had been on an intelligence watch list since March.

COULD Norway have done anything to anticipate the weekend terrorist attacks? And what are the lessons from those events?

The obvious place to start is with the perpetrator, and whether there were warning signs that could have alerted authorities to the danger he posed.

Anders Behring Breivik, the man arrested for killing at least 93 people, appears to be a behavioural combination of Timothy McVeigh and Martin Bryant. McVeigh was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that killed 168. Bryant was responsible for the Port Arthur shootings in 1996 that resulted in 35 dead. McVeigh was executed in 2001; Bryant is serving 35 life terms.

The challenge for society is in identifying potential mass murderers before they can undertake the act. In Australia we have been reasonably successful in doing that with Islamist extremists but are much less capable of detecting other mass murderers.

There seem to be few childhood parallels between Breivik, McVeigh and Bryant, other than unstable family backgrounds.

McVeigh's parents divorced when he was 10. He was the target of bullying at school and took refuge in a fantasy world where he retaliated against the bullies. He later saw the US government as the ultimate bully after the 1993 Waco incident, when the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sought to arrest Branch Davidian members, including the cult's leader David Koresh. This led to a 50-day siege and ultimately a shoot-out involving the FBI.

At high school McVeigh became a skilled hacker and at one point was named most promising computer programmer, but got poor grades overall. His grandfather introduced him to firearms and at one stage he wanted to become a gunshop owner. He served in the US military during the 1991 Gulf War and later developed links with right-wing extremists.

Bryant was a destructive child, described by teachers as distant from reality and unemotional. He was bullied at school. In 1977 psychological assessments mention his torturing of animals and teasing of younger children. Bryant had an IQ of 66, which placed him in the bottom 1.17 per cent of the Australian population. He had no friends, even in his 20s after he received an inheritance from an eccentric sponsor and his father's superannuation.

Breivik's parents divorced when he was a year old. He had a falling out with his father and severed contact when he was 15. He was said to be an intelligent student and, because of his height and large frame, protected other students from bullying.

Both McVeigh and Breivik seem to have developed their extreme right-wing views in adulthood. McVeigh was nearly 27 at the time of his bombing and Bryant nearly 30 at Port Arthur. Breivik was 32. In adult life all three developed into cold, calculating loners.

Ideologically, Breivik has been characterised as a right-wing extremist and Christian fundamentalist. He was highly critical of Muslim immigration into Christian societies, he is pro-Israel and an admirer of the US Tea Party movement. His interests include hunting and violent computer games, including World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2.

La Trobe University researcher Ramon Spaaij says the main ideological drivers for lone terrorists are white supremacy, Islamism, nationalism/separatism and anti-abortionism. He notes that four of the five lone wolf-terrorists in his case studies were diagnosed with a personality disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"They were loners with few friends and generally preferred to act alone," Spaaij says. "Communication with outsiders was largely confined to violent actions and written statements."

In Breivik's 1517-page manifesto published the day of the attacks -- part of which was adapted from the manifesto of Ted Kaczynski, the American "Unabomber" -- he writes that Muslims "have transformed my beloved Oslo into a multicultural shithole".

He claimed to be part of a shadowy network of latter-day crusader knights modelled on the Knights Templar who fought against the Muslims during the Crusades. It was set up in London in 2002 with cells across Europe.

Breivik says he was the youngest of five people at the founding meeting and attended two follow-up sessions in the Baltic states. Breivik claims the society is plotting the takeover of western Europe by "indigenous Europeans".

"A large successful attack every five to 12 years was optimal depending on available forces."

The FBI's Behavioural Science Unit has tried to profile mass killers, defined as someone who kills a large number of people, typically at the same time or in a relatively short period. By contrast, serial killers have a cooling-off period between killings.

Mass murderers may fall into a number of categories, including killers of family, co-workers, fellow students, members of an organisation or random strangers. Motives vary, including revenge, trying to promote a political reaction and a need for attention or fame. There are lots of early childhood indicators for serial killers, but unfortunately few for mass murderers.

Some characteristics of serial killers include: 90 per cent male, intelligent, do poorly at school and work, come from unstable families, abandoned by fathers and brought up by domineering mothers, hate their parents, were abused as children, have been institutionalised and have psychological problems, have attempted suicide, are interested in unusual and sadomasochistic pornography, wet their beds past age 12, light fires and torture animals. Few of these seem to apply to Breivik.

Two of the critical ingredients for mass murderers are being prepared to die during the attack and being angry or paranoid enough to blame others for their situation.

Breivik did not intend to die because he plans to use the trial as a platform for his views, and he clearly blames the ruling Labour Party for immigration policy in Norway.

Unfortunately, the warning signs for mass murderers are not very specific and could apply to many people in the general population who will never be violent towards anyone. Security intelligence and medical practitioners will therefore find it difficult to identify potential mass murderers.

The planned act of mass murder is, however, likely to be preceded by a careful and often protracted preparatory phase. In Breivik's case this lasted nine years, with finalisation during the past two years. This period could provide security intelligence with some indicators such as the killer's entries on social networking, chat or hate sites, his research and reconnaissance activities and acquisition of the means to undertake the killings.

Breivik was active on the internet, including posting a YouTube clip, because he was keen to get his message out.

One effect of Breivik's actions has been to focus attention on the rise of right-wing extremism and Islamophobia in western Europe. There are several contributing factors. These include the common ethnic European perception of a threat from Muslim immigration and Islamist extremists, competition for jobs, the relatively high birthrate of Muslim families, growing ethnic nationalism and the time gap since right-wing Nazi extremism was a problem in Europe.

Indeed, right-wing views are increasingly becoming political mainstream in Europe, and even moderate politicians have been moving to the Right and away from multiculturalism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain have all recently declared an end to multiculturalism.

Norwegian Centre against Racism director Kari Helene Partapuoli notes: "The Norwegian right-wing groups have always been disorganised, haven't had charismatic leaders or the kind of well-organised groups with financial support that you see in Sweden . . . But in the past two or three years our organisation and other anti-fascist networks have warned of an increased temperature of debate and that violent groups had been established."

Norway does not exist in a vacuum. Its right-wing scene is connected to the rest of Europe through internet forums, where hate-speech proliferates, and participation in right-wing demonstrations throughout Europe.

In France, the far-right National Front, now led by Marine Le Pen, has surged in opinion polls, with surveys predicting she might make it to next year's presidential run-off. Le Pen has compared Muslims praying in the streets outside overcrowded mosques with the Nazi occupation.

Environmental factors that can assist mass murderers and terrorists are complaisant national attitudes towards security, poor preventive security practices, ready public access to firearms and explosives, military training, opportunities to practise with firearms and explosives, isolation of the victims and a delayed response by police.

Breivik had access to arms and homemade explosives and practised their use.

He probably chose the island of Utoya for his rampage because of its isolation and to maximise his toll of young people connected to the Labour Party.

Had Norwegian police not been distracted by the Oslo bombing and been able to respond more quickly to what was happening on the island, the death toll there could have been much lower.

In Australia, one of the positive legacies of John Howard was the gun buyback scheme, and post-September 11 developments include a tighter control of ammonium nitrate -- the most popular ingredient for homemade explosives -- and regular exercising of a quick law enforcement response to multiple terrorist incidents.

The Norway attacks are a reminder for Australians of the need to monitor individuals with extreme right-wing views. They should not be allowed to join gun clubs, own guns or be able to buy quantities of explosive precursors.

Another issue is the need for a quick law enforcement response to shooter incidents that may not occur in CBD areas -- and may be timed to coincide with other police commitments.

Clive Williams is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, and an adjunct professor at Macquarie University's Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism.


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