Norway Mosque Attacker Gets 21-Year Sentence
Norway Mosque Attacker Gets 21-Year Sentence
OSLO — A 22-year-old Norwegian man who said he was inspired by far-right attacks was sentenced on Thursday to 21 years in prison after being convicted of killing his stepsister and opening fire in a mosque near Oslo last August.
The lawyer for the gunman, Philip Manshaus, had sought to use an insanity defense to argue that her client was not criminally liable, but the court made clear on Thursday that it considered him sane in handing down the sentence, which can be extended if he were to be considered a continued threat to society.
Still, the strategy employed by Mr. Manshaus’s legal team prompted a debate in Norway about the limitations of the insanity defense and whether protections intended to preserve free speech have allowed right-wing extremists to spread hateful ideology on social media platforms.
Mr. Manshaus, 22, admitted killing his stepsister, Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen, and attacking the al-Noor Islamic Center in Baerum, an Oslo suburb, while wearing a helmet, camera and body armor. He opened fire in the mosque, but was overpowered by two men inside before anyone was shot.
Mr. Manshaus admitted to carrying out the attack, but he maintained that he was not guilty of any crime during courtroom tirades in which he expressed anti-Semitic views, made homophobic slurs and flashed a hand signal linked to the white power movement.
Speaking during the trial, Mr. Manshaus said his only regret was that he failed to cause more harm. He pleaded not guilty to murder and terrorism charges, claiming his acts were in “self-defense” on behalf of “the European people.”
He must serve at least 14 years, and the sentence could amount to life in prison under Norwegian law.
The murder of Ms. Ihle-Hansen, 17, who was adopted from China as a child, was considered a hate crime, as prosecutors argued that there was a racial element to Mr. Manshaus’s decision to kill her.
Mr. Manshaus shot her four times at their family home, then drove to a local mosque, armed with two rifles and one shotgun, and burst through the back door. Before he could shoot anyone, he was tackled and pinned to the ground by two men while a third man called the police.
Irfan Mushtaq, a board member at the mosque, told reporters that the community had been preparing to celebrate Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim holiday, and that an armed attack only one day later could have resulted in many deaths as the mosque would have been crowded with worshipers.
The violence had striking similarities to an attack just months earlier on two mosques in New Zealand by a self-avowed white supremacist, Brenton Tarrant, who live streamed an assault in which he killed 51 people. Mr. Tarrant posted a manifesto online shortly before the attack, outlining his white supremacist views.
During his trial, Mr. Manshaus said he was inspired by Mr. Tarrant’s hate-filled screed. Minutes before storming the mosque, Mr. Manshaus posted his own message in an online forum praising Mr. Tarrant, writing, “It’s been fun” and “Valhalla awaits,” a rallying cry of white supremacists.
The attack echoed another terrorist attack in Norway, in 2011, when Anders Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo and went on a shooting rampage at a political summer camp for young people that left 77 people dead.
Anne Bitsch, a researcher of militant nationalism, noted the similarities between Mr. Manshaus and Mr. Breivik, and the way they tried to manipulate the justice system.
Both men grew up in affluent areas of Oslo, had troubled childhoods and a distant parent, she said, adding that although they came from different generations, both men espoused violent and racist views.
“Both envision a sort of race war, and both are trying to use the court to convey a message to their like-minded,” Ms. Bitsch said in an interview.
But she said that despite their clear calls for racially driven violence, “whether or not their motives are psychological or political or both will continue to be a matter of debate.”
Mr. Manshaus’s lawyer, Unni Fries, pleaded insanity on her client’s behalf, even though he maintained throughout the trial that he was sane at the time of the attack. She referred to a “paranoid worldview” and “disillusions” and hinted at a history of mental illness in the family.
However, a report by court psychiatrists concluded that Mr. Manshaus was sane and fit to stand trial.
Henrik Pryser Libell reported from Oslo, and Megan Specia from London.