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Emotional outburst halted terror trial

After weeks of almost uncanny calm in the courtroom, an emotional outburst finally disrupted the ongoing trial of the man charged with killing 77 persons in Norway last summer. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that a spectator following the proceedings on Friday suddenly stood up, threw a shoe in the direction of the defendant and yelled “You killed my brother! Go to hell! Go to hell!”

The flying shoe didn’t reach confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, hitting one of his defense attorneys, Vibeke Hein Bæra, instead. She was uninjured, but the court immediately went into recess.

“I want to stress that the trial so far had been proceeding in a very dignified manner,” Bæra later told NRK, adding that the outburst was “very sudden and unexpected.” She noted that everyone involved in the trial faces several more weeks in court, at least six under the current schedule, “and I hope we can return to more dignified proceedings.”

Applause and even cheers
Police quickly contained the man who yelled and threw the shoe, and escorted him out of the courtroom. He was not identified but NRK reported that he is indeed the brother of one of the 69 victims gunned down during Breivik’s massacre at a Labour Party summer camp on the island of Utøya. Police said later that the man was so upset that he was taken to a local emergency clinic for a medical check-up. “He was calmer when he left the courthouse in an ambulance,” a police officer on the scene told NRK. VG Nett reported that the man lives outside of Norway and had flown into Oslo on Wednesday to attend the trial as his brother’s autopsy report was to be examined.

It was the first time anyone attending the terror trial had reacted with such an emotional outburst. As Bæra mentioned, the trial has instead been characterized by restraint, with the only emotion tending to be quiet crying among victims’ family members and others listening to the difficult testimony. Observers, not least foreign journalists covering the trial in its early weeks, have marveled at the stoicism and reserve of the Norwegian survivors and the families of victims, and the fact there hadn’t been any great displays of emotion. This week’s proceedings had been examining the autopsy reports of all 69 of Breivik’s victims on the island, while last week’s testimony examined the deaths and damage caused by his bombing of government headquarters.

It was perhaps only a matter of time before someone finally unleashed pent-up emotion. NRK reported that the outburst prompted others in the courtroom to also stand up, with some breaking into applause and others crying “bravo” and “finally.” Others started hugging each other and crying.

‘In deep sorrow’
Prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh, known for her own cool reserve during what’s been called the largest and most difficult trial in Norwegian history, admitted to being shaken by the sudden turn of events. “This was completely unexpected and I became in fact very anxious,” Engh told NRK. She noted, though, how the trial would “start up again where we left off.”

An attorney representing victims’ families told NRK that the shoe-hurler was “in deep sorrow” and that his emotions simply got the better of him. Breivik himself appeared startled by the incident, and police escorts quickly surrounded him and hustled him out of the courtroom as well. His lead defense attorney said Breivik told him that “if anyone is going to throw anything in court, they should throw it at me next time, not at my defense attorneys.”

Hurling a shoe at someone can be viewed as a grave insult in the Arab world, because a shoe is considered unclean. The practice received worldwide attention in 2008, when an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at former US President George W Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. Some scholars, though, say the Islamic ties to shoe-hurling interpretations can go too far, noting that shoes are viewed as unclean and used in connection with insults in many parts of the world.

Harald Stabell, a high-profile attorney in Norway’s who’s been commenting on the trial for NRK, said that while Norwegian trials are known for being sedate, this wasn’t the first time an object had been hurled in court. He said one angry person through a water glass back in the 1980s, which is why the court now provides only paper cups in the courtrooms.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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