What he was about to describe, he cautioned, would be "horrendous".
But no warning could truly prepare Oslo criminal court for the experience of listening to Anders Behring Breivik detail in a calm, blank way how he gunned down terrified teenagers in the second of two attacks he carried out on 22 July last year.
The 33-year-old spent two hours on Friday afternoon giving a bullet-by-bullet account of what he refers to as his "operation" on the island of Utøya., where the youth wing of Norway's Labour party was holding its annual summer camp. He shot and killed 67 people on the island that day; another fell off a cliff and died trying to escape. One more, a 17-year-old called Håkon Ødegaard, drowned while attempting to swim away.
Leaning back in his chair, twizzling a pen in his right hand, Breivik – flushed, but never losing control — told of how some of the children he killed were so paralysed with fear that he had time to reload his rifle before shooting them. He'd never seen such a thing, he said – not even on TV.
He recalled teenagers "playing dead" whom he slowly approached before shooting them at close range.
Relatives of those he had killed hugged each other. Some who had dodged his bullets stared straight ahead. There were tears in the eyes of some of the most experienced journalists in the courtroom. Lawyers bit their lips as they listened to Breivik, in a clear, measured voice, remember how he decided halfway through the massacre to "look for places where I would naturally try to hide."
On the west side of the island, he said he came across a group "hiding, pressing themselves against the cliff face." With nowhere to run, he was able to shoot them too. Another gang had clustered near an escarpment beneath Kjærlighetsstien, Lovers' Path. Spotting them, he murdered five, claiming his youngest victim, Sharidyn Meegan Ngahiwi Svebakk-Bøhn, who had just celebrated her 14th birthday.
And remorse? Breivik made clear that he felt none. “I stand by what I have done, and I would have done it again,” he said emphatically. The teenagers on the island had been attending a summer camp organised by the Norwegian Labour party. As such, they were “not innocent” but “political activists” and “supporters of multiculturalism”. In his mind, that was enough to make them “legitimate targets”.
Earlier, Breivik had become perhaps the first killer in history to watch CCTV footage of the exact moment when his bomb detonated. This explosion, which took place outside a tower block housing the prime minister’s office, was played to the court over and over again, from every available angle.
We watched as a pedestrian and a motorcyclist approached Breivik’s white van, unaware that it was packed with 950kg of explosives timed to ignite at 3.25pm. They happened to appear on the scene at 3.23pm and 3.24pm respectively. Both were beside the vehicle when the bomb exploded: the camera showed them being swallowed by a billowing inferno of smoke and flame.
Was Breivik shaken by watching the consequence of his actions? Not in the slightest. His only reaction was to declare himself “disappointed” that his bomb had not toppled the building altogether.
Breivik had worked out exactly where he would need to position his device in order to achieve that goal. By a quirk of fate, that particular parking space had been taken when he arrived at 3.18pm. In a tone of complaint – one of the few occasions when his voice conveyed emotion – Breivik said that he was left with no choice but to park his vehicle at a “sub-optimal” angle, directing the bomb blast away from its target and reducing its force by about 30 per cent. “I considered that attack to be a failure,” said Breivik.
Before he spoke, I had walked over to the spot where the blast happened in the heart of Oslo. It did not take long: the tower block he managed to wreck, claiming eight lives, is barely 200 yards from the court where he appeared every day. Today, this shattered building remains sealed off by wooden fencing, while all around, the gaping windows of neighbouring offices are boarded up.
None the less, the bomb did not come up to Breivik’s expectations, and so he went to Utoya and carried out the massacre. He made clear that had the bombing “succeeded”, he would not have shot the teenagers on the island.
The clear implication of his testimony was that he was forced to conduct the massacre by the supposed failure of his bomb. And the device did not kill as many as he had hoped because someone had been inconsiderate enough to take his parking space.