Sweden -- one of the richest and most egalitarian countries in the world -- now tops the European rankings for fatal shootings

‘The Other Sweden’: Gang shootings take a big place in the vote

Sweden – one of the richest and most egalitarian countries in the world – now tops the European rankings in the number of fatal homicides – Copyright AFP Arif ALI

Viken KANTARCHI

Gang shootings have increased in recent years and have spread across Sweden, as authorities struggle to contain the militant violence that now worries voters most in the run-up to Sunday’s general election.

“This is my son Marley when he was 19,” Marita Ogilvie tells AFP, holding up a framed photograph of a smiling young man, one of many that adorns the walls of her Stockholm apartment.

“He was shot in the head while he was sitting in a car with a friend,” says the 51-year-old man.

The murder, which took place on March 24, 2015 in Warbigard, a dysfunctional concrete suburb southwest of Stockholm, was never solved and the case was closed 10 months later.

The killings are usually settling scores between rival gangs, often controlled by immigrant clans, and are increasingly taking place in public places in broad daylight, according to police.

Violence is primarily associated with battles over the drug and weapons market and personal revenge.

This has escalated to the point that Sweden – one of the richest and most egalitarian countries in the world – now tops the European rankings in terms of fatalities.

Among 22 countries with comparable data, only Croatia has had more deadly shootings, and no other country has seen an increase like Sweden in the past decade, according to a report released last year by the National Council for Crime Prevention.

– Execution of the shopping center –

Despite various measures taken by the social democratic government to combat the gangs, including tougher prison sentences and more police resources, the number of people killed and injured continues to rise.

Since January 1, 48 people have been killed by firearms in Sweden, three more than in all of 2021.

Explosions of houses and cars and grenade explosions are also frequent.

For the first time, crime has supplanted the usual health and education problems associated with the welfare state, and has become one of the main problems of the Swedes in Sunday’s elections.

While the violence was once limited to places frequented by criminals, it has now spread to public places, causing concern among ordinary Swedes in a country long known to be safe and peaceful.

On August 19, a 31-year-old man identified as a gang leader in Sweden’s third-largest city of Malmö was gunned down in an Emporia shopping center months after his brother’s death.

A 15-year-old teenager was arrested for the murder.

A week later, a young woman and her son were hit by stray bullets while playing in a park in Eskilstuna, a quiet town of 67,000 people west of Stockholm.

The right-wing opposition, led by conservative moderates and far-right Swedish Democrats who hope to wrest power from the Social Democrats, has promised to restore “law and order”.

Defending the left against accusations of promiscuity, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson promised a “national offensive” against a scourge that poses a “threat to all of Sweden.”

– “Parallel Societies” –

According to Andersson, the escalation of crime is due to the emergence of “parallel societies” after “too much immigration and too little integration.”

Jacob Freiman, a former gangster who is now helping other criminals put that life behind them, says even he himself is appalled at the level of violence.

“I’m from a different generation, obviously we had guns too. But it was rare to shoot someone,” he tells AFP in Södertälje, an industrial city south of Stockholm with a large immigrant population.

“You shot someone in the legs. Now they are ordered to shoot in the head,” he says.

At a police station in Rinkeby, a troubled suburb of Stockholm, patrol cop Michael Cojocaru, 26, says he and his colleagues regularly face brutal war-like violence and seize assault weapons, grenades and explosives.

“You will see wounds, people who have been shot with AK-47s, people with stab wounds, people with military injuries,” he tells AFP.

“It’s a completely different society… a different type of Sweden.”

Experts attribute the escalation of violence to a number of factors, including segregation, integration, and economic hardship for immigrants, as well as a large black market in weapons.

The recruitment of young teenagers into criminal gangs who are not tried as adults if they are caught is also a major concern.

Seven years later, Marita Ogilvy is still trying to figure out why her son was killed. “He was an ordinary child.”

“I don’t know what happened to our society. I don’t know how they lost control over some areas, but they did it,” she sighs. “And it’s getting worse.”

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