Over the course of one night last year, three people were killed in separate attacks across Sweden – three of many violent attacks to rock the country in 2023.

The first victim was an 18-year-old man who was shot dead in a Stockholm suburb on September 27. Just hours later, one man was killed and another was wounded in a shooting in Jordbro, south of the city.

Then, as if two killings weren’t enough, Soha Saad – a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher living with her brother and parents – died in an explosion in Uppsala, west of Stockholm, in the early hours of September 28.

In the aftermath, one neighbour described the blast as being ‘like a war scene’ and ‘something you see on the news from Afghanistan.’

The violence meted out across the region in those 12 hours made international headlines, but to many living in Sweden – did not come as a surprise.

In a series of interviews, Swedish academics, a politician and a high ranking police officer have spoken to MailOnline about the multi-faceted crisis, describing a nation at crisis point that is ill equipped to tackle the scale of the violence.

Sweden has been described as a 'haven' for mafia gangs off the back of surging migration. Backlash against immigration has in turn - in the past - led to clashes between groups and Police (pictured), who are swamped with trying to crack down of rising levels of gang violence

Sweden has been described as a ‘haven’ for mafia gangs off the back of surging migration. Backlash against immigration has in turn – in the past – led to clashes between groups and Police (pictured), who are swamped with trying to crack down of rising levels of gang violence

Police vans are on fire amid clashes between protesters and police in 2022

Police vans are on fire amid clashes between protesters and police in 2022

Smoke billows from burning tires, pallets and fireworks during riots of Police with few hundred protesters in the Rosengard neighbourhood of Malmo, Sweden, 28 August 2020

Smoke billows from burning tires, pallets and fireworks during riots of Police with few hundred protesters in the Rosengard neighbourhood of Malmo, Sweden, 28 August 2020

Jale Poljarevius, a senior police officer and chief of intelligence for Sweden’s Mitt region, described the ‘deadly violence’ as being ‘very serious’ to MailOnline.

He said that although gang violence today has improved slightly from ‘Black September,’ when a new flare-up in violence will come can be unpredictable.

‘That was a bad period in Sweden – September to October last year. Today it’s a little bit better, but it’s very insecure still because it can turn on and start with a new wave of violence at any time,’ he said.

‘Sometimes we make arrests of gang members and when they are put away, a vacuum opens, and then new gang members try to take over,’ he said. Then ‘they are fighting each other and you have new shootings and a new explosion of violence.’

Deadly violence linked to feuds between criminal gangs has escalated in recent years against the backdrop of high levels of migration into the country.

Hundreds of shootings and several bombings have been carried out – with a shooting earlier this week resulting in the death of an award-winning rapper named C. Gambino. Police – who say 62,000 people are linked to criminal networks in the country – have said they suspect the attack was gang related.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s share of non-western population grew from 2 percent to 15 percent in just 20 years.

Mafia groups abroad have called the country a ‘haven’ for their activities, while organised crime groups have infiltrated business sectors and found ways to smuggle military-grade weapons into the country.

In response, Swedish police have been given new powers – such as the ability to declare ‘visitation’ or ‘safe zones’ in which officers have more temporary powers to increase their presence, and to search people, homes and vehicles.

But many, including within the government, have gone as far to call on a full closure of Sweden’s borders to asylum seekers.

It is easy to see why some are calling for drastic measures. September 2023 was a particularly bloodthirsty month, with over 40 violent episodes and 12 deaths recorded in just 20 days – earning the moniker ‘Black September’.

In all of 2023, 53 people were killed in shootings across Sweden, which is home to around 10.5 million people. In 2022, that figure stood at 62 – and Stockholm’s per-capita murder rate was roughly 30 times that of London’s.

The killings have turned Sweden, seen for many years from the outside as a peaceful Scandinavian welfare state, into the European Union’s gun-homicide capital.

Gangsters carry out personal vendettas against each other – or hire youngsters to do their dirty work. Almost half the suspects in the gun-related murders in 2022 were aged between 15 and 20 – youngsters who have been groomed by gangs that are, statistics show, largely run by second-generation immigrants.

Young hitmen have admitted to being hired to shoot and kill rivals, being paid as much as a million krona (around £73,000) to do so, or as little as a few thousand.

Experts say the violence has been driven by a number of factors: Turf wars between gangs, a growing drugs market, an influx of guns into the market, growing inequality, high level of immigration and also a failure of migrant integration into society.

But gang activity in Sweden is not limited to street violence and drugs. Organised crime has also taken hold in the country, with many gangs also committing fraud.

The overall issue has led to uncomfortable debates.

The wealthy state has taken in more asylum seekers escaping the Middle East and the Balkans than many other European countries over the past three decades.

This has emboldened right-wing politicians in the country while leaving those on the left feeling nervous about vilifying immigrants and other vulnerable communities.

Some argue that there is a direct link to migration and gang crime in the country, while others argue that it is the unequal conditions in which migrants and others are either placed in or are raised in that push youngsters towards gangs.

Nevertheless, both sides tend to agree that there has been a failure to integrate many new arrivals into the country at a time when there is a growing inequality gap.

How to tackle the issue remains divisive.

Police are seen at the scene of an explosion in Uppsala on September 28, 2023. The blast killed 24-year-old Soha Saad,

Police are seen at the scene of an explosion in Uppsala on September 28, 2023. The blast killed 24-year-old Soha Saad,

Soha Saad, 24, was killed in the early hours of September 29 after a blast tore through her home in Uppsala, Sweden. It is believed the true targets of the attack were her neighbours across the street, but that those responsible got the wrong house

Soha Saad, 24, was killed in the early hours of September 29 after a blast tore through her home in Uppsala, Sweden. It is believed the true targets of the attack were her neighbours across the street, but that those responsible got the wrong house

Damage is seen to Soha Saad's house in Uppsala on the morning of September 29 after she was killed in the bomb blast. She was the third person to die in gang violence that night

Damage is seen to Soha Saad’s house in Uppsala on the morning of September 29 after she was killed in the bomb blast. She was the third person to die in gang violence that night

Police are seen outside of Soha Saad's home after an explosion tore through it in September

Police are seen outside of Soha Saad’s home after an explosion tore through it in September

News footage at the time showed the devastation caused by the blast in Uppsala

News footage at the time showed the devastation caused by the blast in Uppsala

Violence has begun to spread into more affluent areas of Sweden, but it is still deprived migrant communities that are seeing the worst of the killings.

Many of the immigrants who enter Sweden end up in these suburbs, meaning first, second and third generation migrants are brought up in satellite towns and council estates that are segregated on the outskirts of the country’s main cities.

There, people have fewer economic prospects, increasing social inequality and, as a result, find it more challenging to integrate into society. Gangs often fill that void.

These are ideal conditions for gangs to recruit, with statistics showing that most gang shooting suspects are young men with foreign background – and are often first or second generation immigrants, and therefore Swedish citizens.

Göran Adamson, a political consultant and associate professor with a PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE), told MailOnline that there is a clear link between migration and the gang crime in Sweden.

Pointing to his 2020 study ‘Migrants and Crime in Sweden in the 21st Century’, he said someone with a migrant background can be two, three or even four times more likely to be involved with or a suspect in criminal activity than an average Swede.

‘When some people say there is no connection between migration and crime, they are not telling the truth,’ he said, adding: ‘The data from the crime prevention agency tells us this […] these are just the bare bones statistics.’

He continued: ‘In the suburbs, there is a lot of shooting and a lot of killing going on and its mostly gang related. I would say 99 percent gang related.

‘When someone is shot – if someone who is under 20 – is shot or two people are shot in a suburb of Stockholm, you can almost count on them being members of one gang who are killing members of another gang, but these are still young guys.’

Manne Gerell, an associate professor of criminology at Malmo University, told MailOnline that generally, crime in Sweden is trending downwards.

He said the country does have a ‘very big problem with violence’ largely limited to gangs. Now, though, more people are being caught in the crossfire as turf wars and vendettas spill out from Sweden’s marginalised suburbs.

Police officers investigate the scene where a young man was shot at a sports ground in southern Stockholm on September 28, one of three suspected gangland killings that day

Police officers investigate the scene where a young man was shot at a sports ground in southern Stockholm on September 28, one of three suspected gangland killings that day

One man was killed and another was wounded in a shooting in Jordbro, south of the Swedish capital on September 28. Police are seen working near the scene

One man was killed and another was wounded in a shooting in Jordbro, south of the Swedish capital on September 28. Police are seen working near the scene

For example, it is believed that the targets of the bomb attack in which Soha Saad was killed were actually her neighbours across the street, who belonged to a criminal gang. The perpetrators got the wrong address.

‘The general population is less likely to be a victim of a violent crime now than they were ten years ago, and that drop has been particularly large,’ Gerell said.

‘But gang violence is a big problem. It has increased substantially and it is taking a lot of lives […] for a small country like Sweden.

‘In addition, some of these killings are now innocents – innocents are being killed, for several reasons. Sometimes gangs mistake a civilian for a gang member and shoot the wrong person. Sometimes they deliberately kill someone who is a relative of a gang member, but who isn’t a criminal themselves. Sometimes they do drive-by shootings and innocents happen to be at location and get killed.

‘So that means that we do have a problem with this and it’s very serious and not just gang members, but also completely random,’ he added.  

This week alone saw some shocking incidents. 

On Tuesday, a Swedish rapper – who last month was named the country’s hip hop artist of the year – was killed in a gang shooting in Gothenburg.

Masked 26-year-old rapper C.Gambino – whose real name is Karar Ramadan and is not to be confused with American rapper Childish Gambino – was the victim of a shooting in a parking lot on Tuesday evening, police said.

The killing ‘is linked to a gang conflict’, a police spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the rapper ‘was known to police’.

Meanwhile, two men were shot dead in an apartment building in Norrköping, and a 17-year-old was charged with three murders in Tullinge and Västberga.

The suspect in the triple murder case was just 16 at the time of the killings. 

26-year-old C.Gambino, whose real name is Karar Ramadan , was one of Sweden's biggest rap stars. He was shot dead this week in a parking garage

26-year-old C.Gambino, whose real name is Karar Ramadan , was one of Sweden’s biggest rap stars. He was shot dead this week in a parking garage

C.Gambino parked his car at a garage in Gothenburg on Tuesday where one or more attackers were lying in wait, according to local media

 C.Gambino parked his car at a garage in Gothenburg on Tuesday where one or more attackers were lying in wait, according to local media

He was shot and hit by at least two bullets, police said, with pictures from the scene showing several bullet holes in a glass door

He was shot and hit by at least two bullets, police said, with pictures from the scene showing several bullet holes in a glass door

GROWING CONCERN

Unsurprisingly, the violence has left many Swedes concerned.

Swedish newspapers regularly splash stories about gangland attacks on their front pages, and political parties promising a tough response are risen in popularity.

One such party is the Sweden Democrats – a party born out of a neo-Nazi movement at the end of the 1980s which has pivoted in recent years to be a more mainstream political party. It now forms part of the ruling conservative coalition government.

Like Adamson, Charlie Weimers – a Swedish MEP and member of the party, said there is a clear link between migration and gang crime.

‘This is why my party has a zero asylum policy for Sweden,’ he told MailOnline. ‘We must give ourselves the breathing room to start dealing with these problems, because they are systemic and threaten the basic functions of Swedish society.’

Weimers continued: ‘In this gang related criminality you have everything from street thugs – who kill for £50 – to very well organised criminals who infiltrate municipalities in order to control welfare payments and other functions of municipalities.

‘The first problem – the street problem – is on the news every evening.

‘But the latter problem is threatening the basic function of society, the stability of Sweden as a state, because it is then turning into more of a classic mafia. Historically that’s been very hard to root out and we need to try to stop this before it’s too late.’

The violence has led to many asking: what has led to the rise in gang attacks?

‘Sweden had been guaranteed peace, order and quiet for a long time,’ Police officer Poljarevius said. ‘You take this for granted.

‘But when you combine unsuccessful integration and – from late 1990s – globalisation, we have migration that has not been [handled well],’ this causes issues, he said. ‘In Sweden you must have some sort of normal migration, but the rates have been very high in Sweden during the 1990s and start of the 2000s.’

He also said that police have not been able to keep up with the technical advances being made by gangs .

‘Technical development and digitalisation – criminal gangs are using that,’ he said. 

‘Police forces have not been as successful in integrating our systems or our ability to fight crimes with the technical part. So this gap between ability to commit crime and capability to fight crime has just increased for many, many years.’

Similarly, Adamson said Swedish society has not been set up to handle the level of crime.

‘Everything in Sweden has been tailor made for a situation with much less crime,’ he said. ‘Sweden has been tailored to cope with around 25 percent of the murder rate we have. Some say we need to build many more prisons and we need to change the structure of the legal system, but these things take 10 years or 20 years.

‘There’s a huge backlog. We are not prepared for this, and we keep being unprepared for the escalating violence, which means we can’t handle it properly.’

Adamson said a lawyer acquaintance has warned the system could collapse under the strain ‘because we simply have no means of coping with the rapid increase of serious crime, and we don’t know what’s going to happen after that.’

Police say much of the recent violence was down to a drug gang known as ‘Foxtrot’ – led by notorious leader Rawa Majid, ‘the Kurdish Fox’ and based in Uppsala – and the fallout after it split into smaller groups.

Police say much of the recent violence was down to a drug gang known as 'Foxtrot' - led by notorious leader Rawa Majid (pictured), 'the Kurdish Fox' and based in Uppsala - and the fallout after it split into smaller groups

Police say much of the recent violence was down to a drug gang known as ‘Foxtrot’ – led by notorious leader Rawa Majid (pictured), ‘the Kurdish Fox’ and based in Uppsala – and the fallout after it split into smaller groups 

Ismail Abdo, aka 'Strawberry', is reportedly the former partner-in-crime to Rawa Majid. However, they have been feuding since the Foxtrot gang split up

Ismail Abdo, aka ‘Strawberry’, is reportedly the former partner-in-crime to Rawa Majid. However, they have been feuding since the Foxtrot gang split up 

Majid fled to Turkey in 2018 and fell out with his right-hand man Ismail Abdo, aka ‘Strawberry’. Amid the bloodthirsty feud, Abdo’s mother was shot dead – also in September 2023, also in Uppsala.

Speaking in April 2022, Sweden’s then-Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson proclaimed that migrant integration in the country had failed, and that it had in turn led to parallel societies forming and gang violence escalating.

Since then, a general election was held in September 2022 and swung to the right, with a minority government forming under Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

The right-wing coalition vowed to crack down on violence by tightening migration policies, doubling prison sentences for offences committed in ‘gang environments’, widen the use of electronic surveillance and even deport criminals who are not Swedish citizens.

PM Ulf Kristersson reiterated this after the spate of killings in September 2023.

‘The wave of violence is… unprecedented in Sweden, but it is also unprecedented in Europe, no other country has a situation like the one we have,’ he said at the time.

‘Political naivety and cluelessness have brought us to this point. Irresponsible immigration policy and failed integration have brought us to this point.

‘Exclusion and parallel societies feed the criminal gangs, providing space for them to ruthlessly recruit children and train future killers. Swedish legislation is not designed for gang wars and child soldiers. But we are now changing that,’ he vowed. 

Gerell, too, said there was ‘no denying’ a connection between the violence and migration, but he noted that many of the migrants involved in gang violence are second or third generation immigrants having been born in Sweden.

‘I think you can make a distinction,’ he said. ‘It might be because of migration, and [it might be] because of failed integration, because most of the people involved in this violence were born in Sweden, so they were not migrants – their parents were.’

But, he said, ‘you can’t really deny the fact that most of both the victims and the perpetrators of this gang violence have a foreign background, so there is a connection to immigration and/or integration, which I think cannot be denied.’

There is something about Sweden, however, that appears to set it apart from other countries, Gerell said. He pointed to Germany, saying that while the country to Sweden’s south has also seen high levels of immigration, ‘shootings are going down’.

So what sets Sweden apart? ‘It’s really hard to tell,’ he said.

‘I do believe that immigration, integration, segregation is part of the answer, but it cannot be the whole answer.’

‘I think another partial explanation might be that the Swedish government and Swedish agencies, and particularly the police, took too long to respond to these problems and let them grow too strong and too powerful – these criminal networks.’

Adamson said that while Swedish people typically have a high level of trust in the state, migrants – many of whom live in segregated communities – have less.

‘If you come from a culture where the state is very weak then you have other structures – you have your family, you have your extended family, you have your clan, you have your tribe – and you care very little about the state, people it makes more sense to join a gang because the gang is where you have your affiliation, where you have your trust and honour and then you can fight against the state,’ he said.

Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson visits the memorial site near the center of Skarholmen, after a man was shot and died in south of Stockholm, Sweden April 11, 2024

Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson visits the memorial site near the center of Skarholmen, after a man was shot and died in south of Stockholm, Sweden April 11, 2024

‘You see the state as your enemy, and then if your state is also your enemy, it’s OK to abuse the state and to try to get money from the state.’

MEP Weimers said that ‘policies in Sweden were unusually soft. Crime policy, for instance, and policing.’

‘[These policies were] created for a very cohesive country – a homogeneous country – which had one of the world’s highest degrees of social trust. The system was not built for dealing with these kind of problems, and that has been exploited.’

He pointed to a report from April in which a journalist in Montenegro had gained access to hundreds of thousands of messages sent between criminals, in which they described Sweden as a ‘haven’ for their activities. ‘This is how criminals have viewed our country due to our very lax policies on crime,’ Weimers said.

‘That was one of the most important reasons why my party grew and why we were able to form a new Conservative government in 2022, but ever since the 60s, Sweden has had a combination of soft crime policy, multiculturalism and mass migration – and this has put Sweden in this situation.’

Some experts say there are other factors to take into consideration, and disagree that migration is the sole reason for the rise in violence. 

Vanessa Barker, a professor of sociology at Stockholm University and Editor in Chief of the Punishment & Society academic journal, said rising levels of inequality and a failure to integrate migrants into Swedish society were partly to blame.

‘We did have increased migration during the refugee crisis,’ she said, referring to the influx of migrants into Europe which peaked in 2015 as people fled Syria, as well as countries like Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Eritrea – as well as the Balkans.

‘You had a lot of fear in Sweden about a collapse in society. [People said] we weren’t going to be able to handle this influx and you did have a backlash against many of those families who came here.’

However, she said how this has been portrayed by politicians and the media in Sweden has created a ‘disconnect’ from how people view both migration, growing violence, and Swedish society – where there is also this growing inequality.

‘It’s portrayed as this overwhelming crisis when [in reality] it’s a society that has built the welfare state. [Sweden is] very affluent, it’s a high quality life,’ Barker said.

‘But in the midst of that, there’s been growing inequality, and that also hasn’t been dealt with head on. So then you have this perfect storm of increased inequality within an affluent society [experiencing] increased migration and rising crime.’ 

A tribute is seen for Ali Shafaei, a young man who was killed in Swedish gang violence

A tribute is seen for Ali Shafaei, a young man who was killed in Swedish gang violence

DRUGS

Barker also said that rising drug crime in Sweden had also played a big part in the proliferation of gun crime. And where there are drugs, there are gangs.

‘What you have here with the violence and the shootings, criminologists have linked this to the drug trade. And so rather than putting this on migration, it’s really about investigating what’s happening with the drug trade,’ she said.

‘Are these unstable markets? Where are the drugs coming from? Is this part of transnational organised crime?’

She said such problems are ‘slightly different than the idea of migrants who come here to settle and who are turning to crime. If it’s part of an organised transnational network, that’s a really different scale,’ she said.

‘And there’s some evidence that this is a transnational network.’

‘We might also want to ask: have consumption habits changed?’ she added.

‘Sweden used to have a zero tolerance policy towards drugs, but you have definitely seen an uptake in the drug trade and the unstable drug markets.’

Barker’s assertion that the rise in violence coincides with a rise in drug-related crimes is backed up by a 2021 report from The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), which looked at trends dating back to 2007.

The report says: ‘The proportion of individuals registered as suspected offenders has declined during the period 2007–2018.

‘This is true both in relation to all registered crime and in relation to most of the individual offence types included in the study. It is also true for all of the groups examined irrespective of native and non-native background.

‘There are however a small number of exceptions to this general, declining trend,’ the report notes. ‘The proportion of individuals registered as suspected drug offenders has increased in all of the groups examined [in the report].’

However, the report also notes: ‘The proportion registered as suspects in connection with attempted and completed homicide offences has increased among persons born in Sweden to two non-native parents.’

This suggests that while some of those who migrated to Sweden themselves may not be the ones committing the most crimes, their children are involved.

GUNS

Another factor fuelling the violence in Sweden is the flow of guns into the country.

While Sweden in general is getting safer, the number of weapons entering its borders are inevitably leading to more shootings.

Poljarevius described the type of weapons being confiscated by police.

A teenager is pictured armed with a AK-47 assault rifle, spraying bullets into the house of the ex-girlfriend of a well-known rapper as a scare tactic in January last year

A teenager is pictured armed with a AK-47 assault rifle, spraying bullets into the house of the ex-girlfriend of a well-known rapper as a scare tactic in January last year

Bullet holes are seen in a door following an attack in which young men fired an AK-47 into an apartment. At the time it was reported that the attack was designed to scare the ex-girlfriend of a rapper amid the on-going fueds between gangs

Bullet holes are seen in a door following an attack in which young men fired an AK-47 into an apartment. At the time it was reported that the attack was designed to scare the ex-girlfriend of a rapper amid the on-going fueds between gangs

‘The majority of weapons we find are still advanced military weapons: AK-47s or military handguns from former Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Union,’ he said.

‘These are the most popular weapons because they are reliable, they’re always working. You don’t have to clean them very much because they are very high quality.

‘But we also see gas weapons or start guns. You can remake them and [reactivate] these guns, and then they become lethal weapons.

‘Then we have also seen 3D (printed) weapons. That’s a new kind of weapon that are made – cyber weapons, you could call it,’ he said.

‘They are getting better and their development is scary. At first, you could only use them for one shot and then the weapon would break because there were lots of plastic materials. Now they’re using composite parts and even steel parts, so you can combine that with the plastic and other kinds of materials – and these guns are scary.

‘I think they will be even better in the future,’ he added.

Gerell pointed out that today in Sweden, a ’20-year-old man is now much less likely to be the victim of violence [that requires] hospital care than 10 years ago.’

However, there has been a huge increase in the number of shootings recorded.

‘At the same time, we’ve seen an increase by 400% of the number of young men being shot or shot to death,’ he said.

‘We have both a general youth population that is getting more peaceful and less violent, and a small subset of our youth population that are killing each other with guns at a much higher degree than before.’

This is backed up by the numbers in the Brå report, which showed there were 391 shootings in 2022 (leading to the 62 shooting fatalities that year) – a significant increase from 2017 when there were 281 shootings.

Explaining how such weapons arrive in Sweden, Gerell said most guns come into the country by land from Eastern Europe and Turkey, or by ferry from Germany.

‘That being said, our customs are not taking that many guns, so there is kind of a gap in our knowledge there,’ he said, suggesting authorities don’t know the full picture.

‘The police take a lot more guns than customs do, so most guns – when they are apprehended by authorities – are already in the country, which means that we have less knowledge about the route of the guns than we should have.’

He said the Swedish government should ‘work with other European Union countries to have them enforce weapon regulations.’

Police officers assess a board showing images of seized weapons in Rinkeby police station on August 31, 2022 in Rinkeby, Sweden. Firearms have flooded into the country in recent years

Police officers assess a board showing images of seized weapons in Rinkeby police station on August 31, 2022 in Rinkeby, Sweden. Firearms have flooded into the country in recent years

Police officers cordon off the area of a shooting outside the Emporia shopping centre in Malmo, Sweden, August 19, 2022 (file photo)

Police officers cordon off the area of a shooting outside the Emporia shopping centre in Malmo, Sweden, August 19, 2022 (file photo)

‘For instance,’ he said, ‘Slovakia was a major exporter of guns a few years ago because they allowed disabled guns to be sold, and they were easily re-enabled.

‘We had a weapons dealer here close to Malmo, where I am, who bought 50 guns and a number of scorpio submachine guns.’ He said these guns were re-enabled ‘and they were then used in homicides all over Sweden in the coming years [so] more work can be done on that to have better regulation of weapons within the EU.’

He also said there needs to be more control of guns on the outer borders of the European Union in order to prevent such weapons from entering.

‘A lot of guns are coming into the Schengen area through Serbia and Turkey, for instance, and I don’t know exactly which route they take, but it might be possible to stop them at the border, into the European Union,’ he said.

Poljarevius expanded on this, saying firearms are coming into Sweden from ‘former Yugoslavia: from Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia. We also sometimes find the Romanian AK47s. But the gas weapons, they are coming from other EU countries, for instance Spain or Slovakia or Czechia, but sometimes even from Turkey.’ 

Barker agreed that more needs to be done to stop guns from coming into the country in the first place as one of many steps to help tackle the violence, and more done to track the weapons.

‘Let’s remove guns from society,’ she said. ‘There could be more technological investment in trying to track the transportation of guns across the border.’

FRAUD & ORGANISED CRIME

Poljarevius said that while drugs and guns were significant contributing factors to the violence, the most significant was money. After all, he said, drugs are just one way for criminals to make money. Another one is Fraud.

‘What you see on the street that that that’s the tip of the iceberg,’ he said.

When we see shootings, when they’re throwing hand grenades at each other or blowing up each other with explosive devices, that’s what you see.

‘But underneath there’s a very large criminal economy. Underneath you have a very well organised systems for IT and cyber crime.’

He also said that underneath is all, there is also something ‘that nobody wants to talk about: corruption’. He said gangs are able to ‘infiltrate certain sectors – for instance – stockbrokers, people who can give you a good possibility to loan money. 

Jale Poljarevius, a senior police officer and chief of intelligence for Sweden's Mitt region, described the 'deadly violence' as being 'very serious' to MailOnline, but said that on top of the gang warfare, there is also a huge issue with organised crime and fraud in Sweden

Jale Poljarevius, a senior police officer and chief of intelligence for Sweden’s Mitt region, described the ‘deadly violence’ as being ‘very serious’ to MailOnline, but said that on top of the gang warfare, there is also a huge issue with organised crime and fraud in Sweden

‘Also lawyers, doctors and people like that – they’re very strategically important people who make the ability to commit crime easier in the modern way.’

He continued: ‘Drugs are one part of this gang activity, but here in Sweden, we can see the main economy for criminal gangs is not drugs, it’s fraud. Fraud is what is giving the most money to the criminal gangs and to organised crime.’

Poljarevius explained that gangs have found ways to exploit Sweden’s welfare state, meaning that the country is putting money in the accounts of criminals who apply for assistance from the state, such as medical assistance. ‘We call this assistance fraud,’ he said. ‘That brings in billions of crowns to organised crime.’

Another type is called ‘friendly fraud’ in which a fraudster will ask an acquaintance to take out a loan in their name, before telling the bank that the loan was taken out of their account fraudulently.

In one case, Poljarevius said, ‘the criminal gang did this and they went down to the French Riviera and they played on casinos and they lived like barons or lords down there, spending lots of money taking pictures with themselves, hiring very nice hotels and some Ferraris and they went around and put everything on Instagram.’

‘So we collected all this evidence,’ he added.

Asked how difficult it is to crack down on this type crime, Poljarevius said: ‘It’s very hard for us to do that because we have ability. We are making some progress but we are not reaching the levels that we want to reach.

‘So we are starting with innovation – new technical abilities like drones, like special kinds of data decryption for mobile phones. 

‘But we cannot work as fast as we want because this is a democracy. You have to have special criteria that you have to fill. You have to go to the court.

‘But the other side, they have no rules at all.’

He said the police see progress in the form of jails being full of suspects, and that many criminals have been hounded out of Sweden.

‘Lots of heavy, top leaders are afraid to either lose their life here or to be arrested,’ he said, ‘so lots of them have fled Sweden.’

However, they are still able to operate from abroad with their foot soldiers on the streets of Sweden carrying out their dirty work.

‘They’re all making decisions from abroad, and then they have their soldiers in Sweden who are working with those orders that they get from them,’ he added.

SOLUTIONS 

Stopping guns at the border, as well as cracking down on drugs and fraud, is just one of several solutions put forward by experts that could help tackle the gang violence. All agree there is no single, easy fix.

Another is to tackle gang recruitment, and to fund schemes that help teenagers and young men move away from a life of gangs and crime.

Police say gangs are increasingly recruiting vulnerable youngsters into a life of crime from care homes – known as Hem för vård eller boende, or HVB.

‘There’s a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy programmes that have been proven to work to reduce crime,’ Gerell said.

‘Also interventions in the school can be good. In the US, they have specific programmes in school – among 10-year-olds, 20-year-olds – to counter recruitment in gangs – and that could be tested in Sweden, so there are there are things that can be done and that can be kind of explored further.’

Gerell also pointed to measures taken by Denmark when Sweden’s neighbour was also facing a rising scourge of gang violence – such as increasing prison sentences for gang related crimes and police resources.

Roses at left at Selma Lagerlof square in Gothenburg after the Swedish rapper C. Gambino was shot dead in a parking garage in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 5, 2024

Roses at left at Selma Lagerlof square in Gothenburg after the Swedish rapper C. Gambino was shot dead in a parking garage in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 5, 2024

Police officers stand at the site following a shooting in Skogas, Huddinge, south of Stockholm, Sweden January 28, 2023

Police officers stand at the site following a shooting in Skogas, Huddinge, south of Stockholm, Sweden January 28, 2023

The police investigate the scene where a young man was shot dead in southern Stockholm, Sweden September 27, 2023

The police investigate the scene where a young man was shot dead in southern Stockholm, Sweden September 27, 2023

Baker, meanwhile, is a strong advocate for better integration and economic equality, arguing that when people feel included within a society to which they both contribute and benefit from, they are less likely to turn to crime.

‘I think there’s a crime issue, and then there’s the integration,’ she said.

‘On a practical level, it would just be more social investment in these de-radicalisation programmes, which we have.

‘Or for people who want to leave gangs – those programmes are there.

‘That’s a really simple thing, in terms of putting value in a programme that works, in a programme that young people want. That works on a community level of increasing attachment and belonging to a local neighbourhood or community, and the country.’

In terms of what the current government is doing to tackle the violence, Gerell said it is ‘doing more of what the previous government, the Social Democrats, did’.

‘The prior government also mainly focused on more police, more tools for the police and longer prison sentences, and the new government is doubling down on that.

However, ‘both governments, and in particular the new one, have failed to put more focus or emphasis on prevention and how we can stop those who are now three or five years old from becoming someone who shoots someone in 10 years,’ he said.

Another solution – put forward by Weimers and his Social Democrats party – is to halt asylum seekers to give Sweden time to get on top of the issue of gang crime.  

‘Halting asylum migration would give us breathing room to start dealing with these problems,’ he said.’It would mean that the flow of individuals to Sweden, who can be recruited or their descendants be recruited by these gangs, will stop. 

‘That is very important,’ he said. ‘If you look at the statistics you can see the propensity among first generation immigrants is lower when it comes to committing crime than second generation immigrants.

‘So we must understand that this problem is a long term one, so doing this would limit the recruiting base for gangs – and then of course, having done so – we must change crime policy, and we’re doing with very concrete actions – like visitation zones – but also doubling penalties, punishment for crimes related to gang violence and also strengthening the police.

‘Halting asylum migration is just the start. Then then we need to deal with the problem from the domestic arena,’ he added.

Adamson, meanwhile, suggested another solution: ‘to give up’. He explained ‘by giving up I mean, giving up trying to understand and trying find common ground.

‘I think it is sometimes foolish and truly unnecessary even to try to integrate people if there are no shared values in the first place at all.

‘When I say that the solution would be to give up, then I mean that the solution would be to say to this person – for instance, an Islamist or a fascist – is to say that we can continue living, but you cannot live here, and we simply cannot live together. You have to live somewhere else.

‘Unless there is some kind of underlying commonality beforehand, I think it is futile and naive and excessively optimistic to assume that multiculturalism works, to assume that we will in the end manage to live peacefully in harmony together.’

Meanwhile, people are becoming desensitised to the problem, Adamson said.

‘The murder rate in Sweden is escalating, [to the point] when you see it in the newspapers, you barely notice it. I notice that I don’t notice it,’ he admitted.

‘It’s an erosion of our decency, an erosion of our sheer interest in what’s going on and it’s getting worse.’

On tackling crime, Poljarevius took a more optimistic view.

Smoke comes out of windows after an explosion hit an apartment building in Annedal, central Gothenburg, Sweden September 28, 2021

Smoke comes out of windows after an explosion hit an apartment building in Annedal, central Gothenburg, Sweden September 28, 2021

Emergency services are seen working the scene after an explosion at a block of flats in Stockholm in 2021. 16 people were injured in the blast

Emergency services are seen working the scene after an explosion at a block of flats in Stockholm in 2021. 16 people were injured in the blast

He said it was important to lock up all the criminals carrying out violent attacks, but also to intervene before they can carry out deadly attacks.

He also said that solutions such as shutting the border represents an ‘easy way out. And you cannot use easy solutions on complex problems,’ he said, calling for the government and police to be more innovative in their approach.

‘You have to socialise young people early [so they understand] how dangerous it is to be a criminal: What could happen? How many of these guys end up in jail? How many end with no jobs, or very bad jobs? What does the future hold? Is your future to be 25 and then dead – or do you want to be a man one day?’

‘It’s very complex situation to deal with, but it’s also very important that you must be fair to this bad situation. You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.’

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