Sweden is experiencing a grim wave of gang violence
ohTHE 15TH SUNDAY thousands of followers of 5iftyy, a Swedish rapper, on his Instagram channel for what he said would be an important live stream. They found themselves watching a bearded man touching gold-plated AK-47 while hurling insults at rival gang members, aided by three rifle-toting thugs in balaclavas. The man with the golden gun was Mustafa “Benzema” Aljiburi, a key member of the Swedish narcotics network known as Foxtrot. Mr Aljiburi is believed to be living in Iraq. He staged the appearance to dispel rumors of his death and threaten a number of enemies, including a Swedish prosecutor.
The live stream looked silly, but the threats were serious. For years Sweden has suffered from high levels of gang-related violence, but for the past two years it has been stagnant. In the first ten months of the year there were 324 shootings in Sweden, 48 of them fatal. The gun crime rate is several times higher than that of other countries. A gang has been attacking competitors’ homes with hand grenades and dynamite; there have been 139 explosions this year. The government is frantically tightening laws and increasing its law enforcement budget, but it is behind the curve. “We should have seen this coming and taken these steps at least ten years ago,” said Daniel Bergstrom, an adviser to Sweden’s justice minister.
The current wave of violence is largely driven by Foxtrot-related disputes. The gang takes its name from its leader, Rawa Majid, a 37-year-old Kurdish Swede. It seems that (“Rawa”. skin, Swedish for fox.) Mr. Majid immigrated from Iraq with his mother as a child and grew up in Uppsala, a city about 70km north of Stockholm. Over the past few years, police say, he has turned Foxtrot into the nation’s largest distributor of illegal drugs, co-opting competitors or capturing the some land. He now leads those efforts from Turkey, where he moved after serving prison time on drug charges in Sweden in 2018.
Overall, Sweden is still a relatively safe country, and the areas where conflict plays out hardly look like crime-ridden slums. Skarpnack, a suburb south of Stockholm that has seen several shootings and bombings, is a tidy area of flats and low-rise gardens. At a recent town council meeting in the cozy culture (community center), community activists pressured council members about mixed-income housing and pleaded for the preservation of a bat colony in a local park. But the conversation soon turned to security concerns. “We had several shooters at the beginning of 2022 that really woke us up,” said Monica Lovstrom, a member of the city council. This year there have been three explosions in the area; one on August 19 blew up the stairs of an apartment building .
Gangs often use bombs as a warning, and none of the ones in Skarpnack killed anyone. (The only bombing death in Sweden this year was a 25-year-old bystander.) But in early September a 13-year-old boy from one of the region’s wealthiest and safest areas was found in forest south of the town, which was burned. in the head. Prosecutors have not released details, but say the killing was gang-related. As the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 16, gangs are recruiting younger teenagers as drug couriers and, sometimes, as assassins.
Police say some of the recruitment takes place through chat apps. School-aged children follow accounts that post lists of activities and prices. Usually, they deliver drugs; rarely, they may be given a gun and a description of a target. Without training, they are likely to lose.
Politically, a crime wave is difficult for the government. Ulf Kristersson, the centre-right prime minister, swept his Center party to power in last year’s election by blaming gang violence on the centre-left Social Democrats, who had been ‘ ran things from 2014. deal with crime, the more he depends on the support of the anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats.
The government has indeed extended criminal sentences, although many are still shorter than those in other Northern European countries. Mr Kristersson says he wants to adopt “Danish punishments for Swedish crimes”, a nod to Denmark’s tougher rules (for example, doubling sentences for crimes committed as part of a gang). It also gives more powers to the police. A law that went into effect on October 1 allows them to request electronic surveillance based on evidence that the target is involved in organized criminal activity; previously they had to be linked to a specific crime.
Some parties have been using less practical ideas. The Sweden Democrats have proposed that children as young as 13 should face adult penalties for serious crimes, including life in prison, and that gang members with non-Swedish backgrounds should be sent from The leader of the Social Democrats raised the idea of using the army – although it is not clear what he might do about joining youth groups.
Others believe that the exclusive focus on rape is short-sighted. “We need to focus on fighting the decline of young people’s values,” said Jan Jonsson, Stockholm’s deputy mayor and a former school principal in a troubled neighborhood who wants to teach civic morality. systematically in the schools, and increase funds for the youth detention centers where young criminals are held.
It may seem unlikely that it will bear fruit in the near future. But reducing gang violence through law enforcement will also be difficult. Many key figures in criminal networks, such as Mr. Majid, are not even in Sweden: at the end of October five people linked to Foxtrot, reportedly including 5iftyy, were arrested in Tunisia, and on October 31 another was reported to be a member of Foxtrot. killed in Sarajevo.
As the police know, in the drug war success is usually temporary. In 2020 Dutch and French police cracked an encrypted network called Encrochat that drug networks had been using to communicate. Swedish prosecutors used the evidence to jail dozens of figures from then-dominant gangs such as Bandidos and Satudarah. The effect, according to Mr. Sund, the detective, was to open up land for someone new. A few years later Foxtrot ran the show. ■