Attacks of July 2011 in Norway. Madness or terrorism?


July 22, 2011, soon after the cities of Oslo and Utøya, Norway, had been the focus of attacks by Anders Behring Breivik, 32, a Norwegian rightist extremist that had been responsible for the deaths of 77 people and the wounding of more than 300.

The first attack, in Oslo, was a car bomb detonated in the Regjeringskvartalet district where the seat of government is located. Breivik had parked the car, with the trunk stuffed with ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil), in front of the palace of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. The car exploded at 15:25 (CEST)[1], killing 69 people and wounding 209. Following the explosion, the military evacuated people from the area and they closed all the roads around the center of Oslo, and urged citizens not to use their mobiles phones for security reasons[2].

At that time, the gathering organized by the youth wing of the Norwegian Labour Party was taking place in the island. After reaching the meeting, Breivik drew a gun and fired on the crowd, killing 69 people and wounding 110, of which 55 were in critical condition[3].

Breivik was arrested soon after the Utøya attack, immediately after the shooting. The trial took place the following summer, and on August 24 he was condemned to 21 years imprisonment (maximum +penalty in Norway) with the possibility of 5-year extension for an indefinite number of times[4]. In its judgment the court acknowledged the sanity of Breivik and found him guilty of “acts of terrorism”. After hearing the reasons for the verdict of the court, the killer repeated the Nazi salute and asked “I wish to apologize to all militant nationalists that I wasn’t able to execute more”[5].

Andres Breivik can be called a ‘lone wolf’, or rather «the terrorist without structure, without scheme, but with an individual project, due to a confused worldview easily defined ‘insane’ […]an individual acting on his own volition, without receiving orders from outside organizations, a man able to turn on itself, while remaining immersed in the reality that surrounds him»[6].
Schmid in Section 8 of the ‘Consensus’[7] says: “Sources of terrorist violence can be individual perpetrators, small groups, diffuse transnational networks as well as state actors or state-sponsored clandestine agents (such as death squads and hit teams)”.

Breivik planned his action for years, also exploiting the Internet. Before the massacre he sent 1003 emails throughout Europe that contained attached his manifesto of 1500 pages, “2083 – A European Declaration of Independence”. Although not all the recipients of the email can be considered accomplices or supporters, it is clear that Breivik had developed a network of relationships in search of followers for his project[8]. Many still think that Breivik did not act alone.

According to Schmid’s definition Breivik’s actions falling under articles 1, 7 and 10. In article 1 Schmid says: “…direct violent action without legal or moral restraints, targeting mainly civilians and non-combatants, performed for its propagandistic and psychological effects on various audiences and conflict parties”, in article 7: “The direct victims are not the ultimate target (as in a classical assassination where victim and target coincide) but serve as message generators, more or less unwittingly helped by the news values of the mass media, to reach various audiences and conflict parties that identify either with the victims’ plight or the terrorists’ professed cause” and in article 10: “The immediate intent of acts of terrorism is to terrorize, intimidate, antagonize, disorientate, destabilize, coerce, compel, demoralize or provoke a target population or conflict party in the hope of achieving from the resulting insecurity a favourable power outcome, e.g. obtaining publicity, extorting ransom money, submission to terrorist demands and/or mobilizing or immobilizing sectors of the public” [9].

Reading these articles we can understand how the aims of Breivik’s actions have had a propaganda purpose. The fact that Breivik acted according to purely terrorist methods – “At the origin of terrorism stands terror – instilled fear, dread, panic or mere anxiety” (article 5) – and because the reasons of his actions can be traced to Articles 1, 7 and 10, is possible to include the Breivik’s actions in the category of ‘acts of terrorism’ and the author in the definition of terrorist.



[1] Eksplosjonen i Oslo sentrum 22. juli 2011, 01/08/2011,

[2] Savage Terror Attacks, 23/07/2011,

[3] Oslo government district bombing and Utøya island shooting July 22, 2011: The immediate prehospital emergency medical service response, 26/01/2012,

[4] Norway Mass Killer Gets the Maximum: 21 Years, 25/08/2012,

[5] Breivik won’t appeal, sorry for not killing more, 24/08/2012,

[6] G. Olimpio, Dall’autobomba di Oklahoma City alla strage di Utoya. Il ‘terrorismo solitario’ e la prevenzione possibile, Gnosis – Rivista Italiana di Intelligence, 3/2011,

[7] A. P. Schmid, The Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism, Perspective on Terrorism, Vol 6, No 2 (2012),

[8] G. Olimpio, Op cit.

[9] A. P. Schimd, Op cit.

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