By Alister Doyle
OSLO (Reuters) - A Norwegian prison has defended carrying out hundreds of strip searches and twice-hourly night-time checks on mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, saying it had to ensure he did not have weapons to take hostages or commit suicide.
Nazi-inspired Breivik has taken Norwegian authorities to court, accusing them of inhuman and degrading treatment of him in prison in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights since he massacred 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage in 2011.
Knut Bjarkeid, director of Ila prison where Breivik spent two years until 2013, said on Thursday the 400 strip searches by guards at the jail were mainly to ensure he had not picked up bits of metal or concrete from an outdoor exercise yard that could be used as weapons.
He also defended the night-time checks every 30 minutes by guards. The checks on Breivik are now far less frequent.
"We were worried about self-harm and that he would take his own life. He'd killed 77 people. If the bubble he was in burst, it (suicide) was obviously one of the actions he might take," Bjarkeid told the court.
He said there were also fears Breivik could harm others or take hostages.
Breivik says he has been forced to strip 880 times in total while a prisoner. He is serving Norway's maximum sentence of 21 years, with the possibility of extensions.
In 2011 he killed eight people with a bomb in Oslo and then gunned down 69 people, many of them teenage members of the then ruling Labour Party, at a gathering on an island nearby.
A 2013 letter by Breivik, read out in court in Thursday, said the searches had been unnecessary because he could easily have overpowered a guard without weapons while handcuffed "with a quick blow of the fist to the throat".
Breivik, 37, also wrote that he could easily have made weapons from objects in his cell such as pens or a toothbrush.
On Wednesday, Breivik told the court that Norway was trying to kill him with solitary confinement, complaining of degrading prison conditions including cold coffee and microwaved meals that were "worse than waterboarding".
(Editing by Andrew Roche)