Norway shooting: Norway shooter gets some support from Europeans
LUTON, England (AP) - The leader of a British far-right group to which Anders Behring Breivik claims links called the attacks a sign of "growing anger" in Europe against Muslim immigrants, while a politician in a party in Italy's governing coalition called some of the gunman's ideas "great."
Following a wave of near universal revulsion against the attacks, the comments were among the first public statements that appeared to defend the extremist views that drove the Norwegian gunman to carry out the massacre.
Stephen Lennon, leader of the English Defense League, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he does not condone Breivik's rampage but "the fact that so many people are scared - people have to listen to that."
"People should look at what happened in Oslo and understand that there is growing anger in Europe," said Lennon, 28. "You suppress people's rights you suppress people's voices and people will just continue to go underground - but that doesn't make the problem go away."
Backtracking on earlier denials of any link to Breivik, Lennon said he is in touch with regional EDL leaders to find out whether the gunman had contact with members of the group as he claims in his sprawling manifesto.
Breivik has also posted admiring comments about the EDL online and expressed a wish to attend its rallies.
"It could turn out that one of our members met with him but at this point we're not turning anything up," Lennon said.
Meanwhile, Mario Borghezio, a European parliamentarian who belongs to Italy's rightwing Northern League party, told a mainstream Italian radio station that he sympathized with some of Breivik's ideas.
"Some of the ideas he expressed are good, barring the violence, some of them are great," he told Il Sole-24 Ore radio station.
The Northern League, the junior partner in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government, has caused a stir with its increasingly virulent anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic rhetoric.
Breivik has confessed to the twin attacks on Oslo's government district and a summer camp for the youth wing of Norway's ruling Labor Party that killed 76 people. He said he carried out the massacre to publicize his calls for expelling Muslims from Europe.
The act of right-wing terrorism stunned a continent that has been grappling with a wave of xenophobia and anti-immigrant violence amid faltering economies, rising unemployment, and ongoing fears about Islamic terror plots.
Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, said he has recently taken his group touring in Germany, France and the Netherlands, and finds rising European support for xenophobic groups like his.
"They're going to get bigger and bigger," said Lennon, who is missing several teeth from brawls with police. The EDL leader was convicted Monday of leading a football hooligan street fight and sentenced to 12 months community service.
Lennon also claimed that a man Breivik describes in his manifesto as his mentor - "Richard (the Lionhearted)" - is a former EDL member called Paul Sonato, who was kicked out of the group a few years ago.
Sonato, an English right-wing blogger who now goes by the name Paul Ray, told The Associated Press in an telephone interview from his home in Malta that he never had any dealings with Breivik and condemned the massacre.
"Being implicated in this, I just want the truth to come out and it proven that I'm nothing whatever to do with this," he said.
The 35-year-old blogger said he fled England almost two years ago after being arrested for stirring racial hatred and settled in Malta.
Meanwhile, the defense lawyer for Breivik said he agreed to take the case because he felt the tragedy underscored the need to safeguard democratic traditions like the right to defense counsel.
Geir Lippestad said at his first news conference that he considered the case for 10 or 12 hours before finally agreeing to take it.
Later, Lippestad told The Associated Press that he did not know why his client chose him. He once worked in the same building as Breivik and Norwegian media have reported that he has defended neo-Nazis.
"My first reaction was of course that this is too difficult, but when I sat down with my family and friends and colleagues, we talked it through and we said that today it's time to think about democracy," Lippestad said.
He added: "Someone has to do this job, the police has to do their job and the judges do their job." He was speaking in English.
"My job is not to be his friend," he said. "He will get a fair trial, that's my job to secure."
Breivik has confessed to last week's bombing in the capital and a rampage at a Labor Party retreat for young people, but he has pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges he faces, claiming he acted to save Europe from what he says is Muslim colonization.
Asked at the press conference if Breivik was giving him instructions for his defense, Lippestad said he wasn't and that he wouldn't take such instructions. He confirmed he's a member of the Labor Party but doesn't know whether the suspect is aware. Breivik has ranted against the party, accusing liberals of being ashamed of their culture and betraying Norway in their pursuit of a multiculturalist society.
Breivik made his first appearance in court on Monday to answer the terrorism charges against him.
While 21 years is the stiffest sentence a Norwegian judge can hand down, a special sentence can be given to prisoners deemed a danger to society, who are locked up for 20-year sentences that can be renewed indefinitely.