On Friday July 22nd, hundreds of Labour Party youths attending a summer camp were trapped on the small island of Utøya surrounded by icy waters, trying to dodge bullets that whistled across the island for some 75 endless minutes, with Anders Behring Breivik determined to kill as many of them as possible.
Massacre survivors seek 'only justice' for Breivik
Photo: Paal Sørensen
13 April 2012
They lost brothers, sisters and friends, some suffered grievous injuries themselves, yet survivors of last year's Norway massacre want to see the killer have a fair trial - no more, no less.
Despite the loss of 69 of their friends, the Utøya survivors, most of them teenagers, are now remarkably free of hatred ahead of the start of the rightwing extremist's trial on Monday in Oslo.
"It's important that we don't let the terrorist change the values we had before the attacks," survivor Bjørn IIhler told AFP.
Just nine months ago, this now 20-year-old managed to save his life and that of two young boys by playing a macabre game of hide-and-seek with the gunman.
"I ran across the island every which way to try to avoid Breivik. And in the end, I had these two boys with me, aged eight and nine," he recalls.
"When we were at the southern tip of the island, Breivik came up behind us and told us he was a police officer, that we were safe. Then he opened fire on our group. We jumped into the water and we swam to get out of his line of sight," he added.
Ihler and his two charges were found by police, crouching in shrubbery on the shores of the island strewn with lifeless bodies.
Norwegians were later startled to discover that their country's penal code called for a maximum of 21 years in prison for "acts of terror", prompting some people to call for tougher laws. But not Ihler.
"Breivik tried to attack the rule of law and for me it's more important to preserve the system that he wanted to destroy than to change that system to keep him in prison," he explains.
He is convinced that Breivik, who also killed eight people when he set off a car bomb near the government headquarters in Oslo in the name of a crusade against "the Muslim invasion" of Europe and multiculturalism, will one day be a free man.
"We have a legal principle aimed at, whenever possible, reintegrating convicted people back into society. It will be very difficult in this case and emotionally very hard for me and the other survivors. But we have to hold onto our values," he says.
Surprisingly, the large majority of Utøya survivors who have spoken out publicly refuse, like Ihler, to compromise on existing principles and reject the idea of introducing special legal exceptions for Breivik. But few share Ihler's conviction that Breivik will one day be set free.
If the killer is found criminally insane and not accountable for his actions, he will be sentenced to closed psychiatric care, possibly for life.
And if he is found accountable, a special provision makes it possible for him to remain behind bars beyond the maximum 21 years called for by the law as long as he poses a threat to society.
"The most important thing for me is that this person never again will be a danger to people around him or society and I am very confident that the Norwegian judicial system will make that possible," says Eskil Pedersen, the head of the Labour Party's youth movement.
Also on Utøya the day of the massacre, he was able to flee on board a small ferry linking the island to the mainland.
"I'm quite confident that the people who will decide whether or not he is a danger to his surroundings will find it very difficult to come to the conclusion that he is not," he added.
Magnus Haakonsen, another survivor, says "we need to have a fair verdict that we won't need to be ashamed of in the future."
On July 22nd, the strapping, jovial 18-year-old saw bullets whiz around him.
He first hid in the crevice of a cliff, then fled the island by swimming almost two kilometres (1.25 miles) before he was picked up by a boat a stone's throw from land.
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"It doesn't matter to me whether Breivik ends up in prison or in a psychiatric ward. The important thing is that the right solution is found for his situation," he tells AFP.
"If he is a sick man, he should be entitled to psychiatric care. If he's not, he should go to prison," he adds.
Breivik's mental health and whether he will be sent to prison or psychiatric care will be the main issue in the trial.
A first psychiatric examination concluded that he was criminally insane, but that diagnosis was contradicted in a second opinion that found him sane. Ultimately, it will be up to the judges to decide.
Magnus Haakonsen says he has already gotten his "revenge."
"Me, I see my friends, I'm getting my high school diploma, and I'm going on to university. Him, he's all alone in his cell."