INTERVIEW: ‘He wasn't a memorable person. He was a completely ordinary guy. He wasn't frightening. When he said, 'I'll kill you,' I didn't believe him. He was utterly normal. It's only through his crime that he's become a mythic person, someone who's so frightening that psychiatrists daren't be with him on their own.’
The Foreigner is now publishing this article as Anders Behring Breivik has been found sane, as he wished, and given 21 years in jail, Norwegian legislation’s maximum term.
Marta is in her late thirties, confident and assertive. To protect her identity we have agreed to say no more than that she works in the media, and lives in the fashionable West End of Oslo. We have changed her name, and those of her friends.
On Thursday 28th October 2010, Marta met a man at the Palace Grill in the centre of town. That man was Anders Behring Breivik. He would go on to commit the worst peacetime spree killing by a single gunman ever committed.
“I was going to meet my girlfriend Frida at ten, which is considered quite early in the evening for Norway. I was late because I'd been waiting in for the babysitter, and Frida had been at an art show. She'd got to the bar early, and she'd started talking to this guy.
He must have been the only guy in the bar right then because he was straighter than the people Frida normally gravitates towards. He came across as someone with a business degree, and she's maybe a bit more intellectually inclined. But he became far more interesting – for her – when it emerged he was an author.
She's very interested in myths about Knights from the Middle Ages. And he was too, so they'd bonded over that. He had told her he was writing a masterpiece, which was completely unlike anything the world had ever seen.
Frida brought me into the conversation as a kind of expert. When I got there she said, “This is Marta. She's got a Masters degree in literature. And this guy here is a writer called Anders. He's writing something that's going to be really big.”
I thought, OK, who is this guy? He looked like one of those West-End boys in very conservative clothes. An estate agent, or something like that. He was also a fair bit younger than us. He wasn't being flirtatious. He was sober and seemed very self-assured. I remember thinking it was unusual for someone dressed like that to claim to be working as a writer. People struggling to get a first book published don't normally look so posh.”
“It's going to be huge.”
“I asked him about his project and he talked about being inspired by novels about knights from the Middle Ages, and I didn't really know what he was talking about because there are no novels from the Middle Ages.
So I asked him, “What do you actually mean? Are you talking about Don Quixote, that sort of thing?” But it was nothing to do with that, or anything else I mentioned. I could never really get a grip on exactly what it was he was writing. I asked him what genre he was writing in, and he said, “It's a genre the world has never seen before.” But he couldn't define what genre his work belonged to. I assumed he meant he was writing a novel.
So I asked him what the plot was. What was it about? And he didn't want to answer that. He became very woolly and imprecise. All he would say was, “The only thing I can tell you is it's going to be huge.”
Then I asked him, “Do you have a contract with a publisher?” “No,” he said, “I haven't sent it out yet.” That's when I began to think, “For god's sake, you're the only one saying this is going to be huge.”
It made him seem incredibly amateurish. I've worked in the publishing industry, and anyone who's writing something that might be truly great will be getting feedback that they can refer to. But of course there are plenty of people who believe they're writing a work of greatness, and they submit it, often it makes no sense whatsoever.”
“A bit of a charlatan”
“We'd been talking for about 40 minutes and I'd begun to think he was a bit of a charlatan. He made such big claims, and had so little to back them up with. But my friend was still convinced that he was the next big thing. She'd had a longer discussion with him about the bits of the book that concerned knights, because they were both interested in that, but it didn't really interest me. After a while I stopped asking questions, and he carried on talking about how important it was.
I thought, “I don't really want to continue this conversation.” The bar had begun to fill up with people and more of our friends were starting to arrive. I left him and Frida and went for a wander around the bar. Frida came to get me. I said, “Honestly, Frida, he's a complete cretin,” and she said, “No, calm down, he's going to be an important writer.” So I went back and joined them. It was clear he wasn't planning to meet anyone.
He didn't have much to boast about apart from his “master work”. He didn't have any great knowledge of literature. He hadn't found out anything about the Song of Roland, which would have been natural for someone who was interested in stories from the Middle Ages. That's the great work.”
Police interviewed Marta twice in January of this year. The detectives were particularly interested in what Breivik had told her about his “masterwork”. This was in fact his 1500-page 'compendium' or manifesto, in which he officially declared war on Islam. The manifesto is largely cut-and-pasted from other sources Breivik found on the internet, particularly the Unabomber Manifesto.
“Then our friend Lise arrived. She looks like some Aryan fantasy: everything is blond. Light skin, white-blond hair, blue eyes, very attractive. She looks much more West Oslo than me and my other friends – pearl earrings, that kind of thing. She had recently split up with her husband and was feeling pretty down. And she'd come to meet us, and not him.
Breivik's focus changed when Lise arrived. It wasn't about us anymore. We were off the hook. Suddenly it was completely irrelevant for him that I had majored in literature because he was trying to pick someone up.
Breivik was on to Lise like a shot. To begin with, he was incredibly friendly towards her. I'm pretty certain he's a trophy-hunter, someone who would like to be seen with the right kind of woman on his arm.
We'd introduced him as a writer. But Lise is completely uninterested in literature, so he didn't get very far with that. She just didn't feel like talking to an outsider, so she pretty much ignored him. Several of our friends said they heard him say that he liked Lise's “Aryan” appearance. That isn't an acceptable thing to say in this country and wouldn't win him any friends. But by that stage we were pretty much done with him anyway. There really was no connection of any sort between them. She had no interest in him, and he was only interested in her because of her Nordic appearance. There was nothing more to it than that.
She just wanted to go out into the yard to dance, to get away from him. She didn't seem to want to talk to him at all. And he became more pushy when he realised that his charms weren't working on her. You know that pick-up routine that some men have? They start off charming, and then they become a bit unpleasant, rather superior. Often they try to use a kind of rejection technique to make themselves attractive, so the woman has to do the work. I guess the idea was to make her more interested in him. He became very stiff, with his nose in the air. The body language was all about being unavailable.
It didn't work though. We started to exclude him from the conversation: our group of friends began to talk more amongst ourselves: we'd been talking about going outside to dance, but we didn't ask him to come with us. Most people understand those signals. And I don't think he had any problem understanding that, but I think he was unwilling to accept that because it had turned into a pick-up situation for him.”
“He was very intense.”
“I think he knew it from the start that Lise wasn't interested, but he thought he could persuade her. He started staring, and behaving in a threatening way. His shoulders were stiff and he stared aggressively, never dropping his gaze. He was staring at us as a group. But it was very clear that it was Lise he was after. By that time we'd all talked and decided that we wanted to get rid of him. So we went outside, and he followed us.
At 12.30 our friend Sally arrived. She is an artist, and had come straight from a gallery. She was sober. Sally's immediate impression of Breivik was that he was creepy and intense. We'd drunk more than she had and were feeling a bit blasé about him. Things like that happen all the time. There are a lot of strange people out on the town, and a lot of very tiresome men out on the pull using really charmless pulling techniques.
Breivik was standing completely still, just staring at Lise as she danced. He hadn't said anything threatening. He was just very intense – beyond the normal boundaries of stalkerish behaviour. His only focus was Lise.
Sally decided to look after Lise. She put herself between Breivik and Lise and danced very assertively, with big movements, so that he couldn't establish eye contact with her, and he got very annoyed by that. He was standing with his teeth clamped together, unblinking gaze, rigid posture. He wasn't trying to smile and ingratiate himself any more, like he'd been doing earlier. Because he'd understood that this wasn't leading anywhere.
We were standing between him and the exit. He stormed past us, and as he went, he shouted, “I'm going to kill you.”
I think I said, “What an idiot,” as he left. I remember feeling relief, thinking we're finally rid of him. But we hardly spoke about it. We didn't think of him as a threat or anything. To me he was a man who was rejected while he was on the pull. Who got angry and went home. The kind that says stupid things that they never carry out.
You have to remember he wasn't a memorable person. He was a completely ordinary guy. He wasn't frightening. When he said, 'I'll kill you,' I didn't believe him. He was utterly normal. It's only through his crime that he's become a mythic person, someone who's so frightening that psychiatrists daren't be with him on their own.”
Nine months later, Anders Behring Breivik committed the worst terrorist atrocity in Norway's history. He drove a van packed with explosives to the government district in Oslo and detonated it, killing eight and injuring many more. Then he drove out of town and took a ferry out to the island of Utøya, where the Labour Party (Ap) was holding its youth summer camp. Dressed as a police officer and carrying firearms he had obtained legally, he murdered a further 67 victims – 2 of them died whilst trying to escape – many of them children. Many more people were seriously wounded.
“When I first saw a picture of him I thought, thank god I don't know him. I know a lot of people from the West End of Oslo. And when you hear such a frightening story, you want to be as far from it as possible. In the same way as you hope you don't know any of the victims. But there was something about him that was familiar, and I wondered if I'd seen him in the street.
I talked to my friend Frida some time after the killings, and she said, “You do understand who he is? You remember that night at the Palace Grill?
I felt a chill run through my body because I realised then where I recognised him from. And I remembered the whole story straight away. Oh god, I thought. That's him. And all the pieces fell into place. I felt completely numb.”
The Foreigner has seen evidence that the police interviews with Marta took place. The identities of Marta's friends are also known to The Foreigner. Breivik is known to have frequented the Palace Grill, and was seen there on the night before his attacks.