In 2019, 320 armed confrontations led to 41 deaths and more than 100 injuries in Sweden. Gang conflicts, mainly relating to drug trafficking, are thought to be responsible for the escalation in violence.
In mid-November 2019, Denmark took the unprecedented decision to temporarily suspend the Schengen agreement and tighten controls along its border with Sweden. It justified the closure of its border to the free movement of people and goods by arguing that it was necessary to stop the violence spreading from Sweden and prevent criminal gangs, responsible for 129 fatalities in the last three years, from entering the country.
Despite this, the Danish police force suspects that Swedish gang warfare was behind the explosion which destroyed the Copenhagen headquarters of the Tax Agency in summer 2019, and a double murder that took place in the city’s suburbs.
Although the numbers of confrontations, deaths and injuries have levelled out since 2017, the headlines surrounding this type of violence are increasingly concerning. On the last day of 2019, for example, a 20-year-old man was murdered in a Stockholm suburb. The victim was wearing a bullet-proof vest but was shot in the head.
The Swedish police force and criminologists believe that many of the murders are revenge killings or honour disputes, sometimes between members of the same gang. The groups are rooted in city suburbs and tend not to have rigid internal structures.
In Stockholm, they have identified 1,500 active gang members belonging to around 50 gangs, with high mobility among the groups. The members are very young and extremely violent. So much so that the growing number of explosions are now more alarming than the exchanges of gunfire. Between January and February 2019, there were more than 230 recorded explosions, an increase of 50% compared to 2018.
The fundamental purpose of the explosions is to threaten and intimidate. Typically, they are triggered at night time in non-operational commercial or business premises with the doors closed. Occasionally, the explosions claim victims who have nothing to do with the criminal activities of the gangs.
Until recently, the gun battles and explosions had been primarily restricted to large Swedish cities like Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg. Lately, however, the attacks have decreased in the major cities and increased in previously unaffected locations. Northern Sweden is a prime example, reporting 3 shootings in 2017 and 28 in 2019.
In Malmö, the city that has suffered the most violent episodes to date, law enforcement, the city council, the prison services and civilians were involved in a joint operation to try and rescue young people from the spiral of gang-related violence. Unfortunately, it was mostly unsuccessful. In Malmö alone, 80 minors between the ages of eight and fourteen years old have been identified by the police as gang members.