Shoe-thrower interrupts Norway killer's trial
Oslo, Norway • An Iraqi man whose brother was killed in Norway's worst peacetime massacre hurled a shoe at the confessed killer and urged him to "go to hell" in a rare outburst Friday that briefly interrupted the terror trial of Anders Behring Breivik.
The incident was the first display of anger inside the normally subdued court room where the far-right fanatic is being tried for the bomb-and-shooting attacks that left 77 people dead on July 22.
Hayder Mustafa Qasim, 20, traveled to Norway from Baghdad this week to attend the proceedings against Breivik in Oslo's district court, his lawyer, Kari Nessa Nordtun, told The Associated Press.
His brother Karar Mustafa Qasim, a 19-year-old who had moved to Norway as an asylum-seeker, was among the victims of Breivik's shooting rampage at a youth camp, Nordtun said.
"I took off my shoe, got up, shouted at the killer, got eye contact with him and threw the shoe," Qasim was quoted as saying by the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.
"He was alone in Norway, without family," Qasim said of his brother. "The killer took his life. And he ruined the life for me and the family. I have traveled from Iraq to Norway to be in court. And it has made an enormous impression on me."
Throwing of shoes to insult someone has long been a form of protest in many countries, but the practice gained widespread attention when an Iraqi threw his shoes at then-U.S. President George W. Bush at a televised news conference in Baghdad in 2008 during the Iraq war.
Witnesses said forensic experts were going through autopsy reports for some of the victims when a man in the second row suddenly stood up and threw a shoe at a desk where Breivik and his defense lawyers were seated.
"He shouted, 'You killer, go to hell.' And repeated it several times" in English, said Mikaela Akerman, a Swedish journalist who was in the court room.
The shoe hit one of Breivik's defense lawyers but she was not hurt.
Breivik remained calm and "smiled a little" as he watched security guards apprehend the man and take him out of the court room, Akerman told The Associated Press.
"He keeps shouting and is crying heavily as he's being led out," Akerman said. "Some of the spectators clapped their hands. Some yelled 'Bravo.' Many others started crying."
Breivik addressed the court as proceedings resumed after a 10-minute break. "If someone wants to throw something at me, you can do it when I walk in or when I leave, thank you," he said, according to Akerman.
Police operations leader Rune Bjoersvik said the man was a brother of one of the victims, but didn't name him. Bjoersvik downplayed the outburst, calling it a "spontaneous and emotional reaction" that didn't pose a "serious security risk."
The man was emotionally distressed and was taken away from the court in an ambulance, he said.
Qasim's lawyer said the outburst was unplanned. He had listened quietly to his brother's autopsy report on Thursday, but after hearing several more on Friday he couldn't hold back his emotions, Nordtun said.
"It was a sudden reaction," she told AP. "There was such a stifling atmosphere in the court. Afterward people clapped. The tension that was in the room was released."
The incident offered a sharp break with the polite atmosphere that has reigned inside the courtroom, even as Breivik testified in graphic detail on how he set off a car bomb that killed eight people in Oslo's government district and then hunted down teenagers at the governing Labor Party's annual youth camp on Utoya island. More than half of the 69 people killed on Utoya were teenagers.
Breivik has admitted to the attacks but pleaded innocent to terror charges, saying the victims were traitors for embracing multiculturalism. He claims to represent a European network of modern-day crusaders opposed to Muslim immigration, but prosecutors say group does not exist.
His mental state is the key issue to be resolved during the trial. If found guilty and criminally sane, he would face 21 years in prison, though he could be held longer if deemed dangerous to society. If declared insane, he would be committed to compulsory psychiatric care.
Police didn't say how the shoe-throwing incident would affect their security procedures at the court but as the trial resumed later Friday, three security guards were placed at the front of the gallery.
Frode Elgesem, a lawyer for the bereaved, said he didn't consider the incident a violent attack.
"I experienced this outburst as a desperate expression of despair," he told Norway's NTB news agency.
The defense lawyer who was hit by the shoe, Vibeke Hein Baere, told national broadcaster NRK she hoped the incident would not be repeated during the trial, which is scheduled to end in late June.
"There are many weeks left and I hope and believe that we will return to the dignified manners we have seen up until now," she said.