Gang crime shocks Sweden: “This is the grim reality”

The situation in Sweden currently looks more like a crime novel by Stieg Larsson than a peaceful story by Astrid Lindgren. The image of the country’s much-described Bullerbü idyll has developed major cracks due to the ever-escalating violence among criminal gangs.

Seven people were recently shot dead around the capital Stockholm within just ten days, and on Thursday evening two men were also killed in a pub in the small town of Sandviken, a good 160 kilometers further north.

On average, shots are fired somewhere in the country once a day. Minors are often involved. How could it come to this?

“We probably haven’t had a situation like this since 1945. “It’s a dangerous time,” said veteran police officer Jale Poljarevius on the radio program “Agenda” about the latest wave of violence. As head of the secret service in the police region of Central Sweden, he heads a unit that deals explicitly with gangs.

It’s primarily about big money

“We see that the violence has definitely become more serious,” he said. It is unbelievable that a country like Sweden, of all places, has to experience something like this. “But that is the grim reality that we are facing and must fight with all means possible.”

Now gang crime in Sweden is nothing fundamentally new. The Scandinavian EU country has been struggling with this for several years. Dozens of gangs are fighting each other; according to the government, an estimated 30,000 people are currently members of these gangs.

It’s primarily about the big money that can be made in the lucrative drug business. According to Swedish customs, Sweden has long become a transit country for cocaine from Latin America on its way to Europe.

All of this leads to violence, which repeatedly manifests itself in gunfire and intentionally caused explosions: According to official police statistics, in the first 258 days of 2023, i.e. up to mid-September, there were more than 260 firearm incidents with 34 deaths and 71 injuries – This does not include several victims of the past few days.

A 13-year-old is also among the victims

There were also more than 120 explosions, although people were generally harmed much less frequently. Rather, these acts are intended to intimidate rivals.

Sometimes bystanders like twelve-year-old Adriana end up in the firing lines – the girl was shot while walking the dog in 2020. One of the two deaths in Sandviken is also said to have had nothing to do with gang violence.

“It’s bad enough that the gangs are shooting each other,” said Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Friday. “But when completely innocent people end up in the line of fire, it’s absolutely horrific.”

What is new in all of this is the unbridled escalation level of the recent wave of violence. The capital region around Stockholm and the university city of Uppsala have become a powder keg.

Seven people were shot here between September 7th and 16th, including a 13-year-old boy named Milo. Prosecutors confirmed Thursday that Milo was shot in the head and that the killing was linked to gang violence.

“It’s a terrible development”

“Criminal networks are currently in a very violent, escalating phase,” says criminologist Christoffer Carlsson from Stockholm University. The gangs have also started attacking relatives of gang members.

“If it is difficult to get to the members, then they are attacked through relatives,” explains the university lecturer. “It’s a terrible development, but not entirely unexpected.”

At the center of the latest wave of violence is the leader of the so-called Foxtrot network. He is known in Sweden as “The Kurdish Fox” and is said to have fallen out with another leading member of the network, 33 years old.

Both are said to be hiding in Turkey. According to information from the radio station SVT, the latest violence began there at the beginning of September: first someone from the 33-year-old’s camp in Istanbul was said to have been mistreated, then shots were fired at an accommodation with connections to the “Kurdish Fox” camp.

One act of revenge follows the next

This internal gang conflict was brought to Sweden in a very short time: On September 7th, a woman aged around 60 – the 33-year-old’s mother – was shot dead in Uppsala. According to the police, it was a regular execution.

Since then, one revenge attack has followed the next – and Sweden is shocked at how increasingly minors are being drawn into the violence, some of them 14 years old and younger and often with a migrant background.

According to SVT, the number of murder charges against minors has risen sharply in recent years. “This is of course a tragic development – that children and young people are becoming murderers and also victims of crime in the vicious circle into which they are drawn,” said Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer.

The young people are attracted to the gangs with, among other things, expensive clothing, money and a feeling of community – and not without ulterior motives: they are often used for rough work, and according to the youth criminal law in Sweden, if they are convicted, they face significantly lower prison sentences than adults – This means that the gangs can use them again after just a few years.

Expert: It will take years to get gun violence under control

How all this ends is unclear. The government has not yet been able to present concrete plans on how to stop the recruitment of minors. Preventive measures for younger children in problem areas and greater effort in integration are on the table; Strömmer can also imagine separate youth prisons even for 13 or 14 year olds.

Criminologist Carlsson expects that it will take 10 or 15 years to get gun violence under control – if you start today. An early indicator of the right path is if the number of new network recruitments declines and eventually stops, he says. “Then we begin to see the end – but there is still a long, long way to go.”

Jean Harris

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