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.
Associated Press writers Simon Haydon and Carlo Piovano contributed to this report.