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Malmö gunman keeps city on edge

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Malmö gunman keeps city on edge
12:19 CEST+02:00
As Malmö police warn the immigrant residents to exercise caution after a spate of apparently random shootings, The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson talks to local leaders about fear, caution and how residents are reacting to the situation.

In a case with clear echoes of the racially-motived "Laser Man" attacks in Stockholm in the early 1990s, Malmö police have begun to investigate 10 to 15 shootings with no apparent motive.

The shooting incidents have taken place throughout the city and none of the victims had any known threats directed against them. Nor have any of the victims been able to explain why they were targeted.

The only thing that they have in common is that they all have immigrant backgrounds.

Tahmoures Yassami, who leads the Iranian-Swedish Association in Malmö, told The Local on Friday that many residents are in shock.

"Many people are frightened at the moment. Especially families who have children. I had a phone call just this morning from a mother who was concerned and asked what was happening," he said.

"We have said to our families to try to stay home in the evenings. We have asked our children to always have their mobile phones on, so we can reach them."

Yassimi questioned whether there really are any parallels to the Laser Man attacks, but either way, the shootings have become a huge topic of conversation among Malmö residents, he said.

Swedish-Iranian Hip hop artist Behrang Miri spends much of his time working with Malmö's young people. Calling for calm, he explained that the Laser Man connection is unfortunate in a city that is all too often associated with crime.

"Many people are shocked. It is not like when the Laser Man was spreading fear in Stockholm - immigrants in Malmö are not a minority. I feel more at home with my appearance in Malmö than in any other city in Sweden."

Miri explained, however, that there are clear similarities between Swedish society today and in the early 1990s, when the Laser Man shootings took place.

"Then we were emerging from a deep financial crisis, as we are now. Then we had a a frenzied immigration debate, as we have now. It is difficult to say if this has caused somebody to react, but the tone of the debate has long been a hard one.

"But the Laser Man connection, I hadn't heard anyone talk about that before the police mentioned it. Now it is all over the media of course."

Miri argued that the young people that he works with are probably less likely to feel affected by the developments.

"I work a lot with the youth and for them shootings in Malmö have unfortunately become normal. I don't think that they react in the same way - Malmö's streets are their meeting place. Parents can be more afraid than their kids," he said.

In 1991 the populist anti-immigrant New Democracy party was elected to Sweden's Riksdag, and in September 2010, the Sweden Democrats, arguing on similar tough line platform, did the same.

The connection with the hardened climate of the debate and even the attacks in Malmö has been drawn by a number of commentators, including Yassimi.

"We have had racism and discrimination for a long time. But they (the Sweden Democrats) now have the power, and the resources, to use democracy as their tool. It seems that they are able to say and do what they want against immigrants, with their hateful propaganda," he explained.

Miri pointed out that Sweden is a product of its environment and has shown itself susceptible to the "far right winds blowing across the continent."

"I hope that a lot of people who voted for the Sweden Democrats did so out of frustration, feelings of being outside the society," he explained.

"I don't know if there is a connection between these attacks and SD's election success, but I know that we have to see to it that everyone feels a part of the society."

Miri explained that this is not just about culturally mixed areas such Rosengård, or Kroksbäck, but also about areas such as Almgården or Klagerup, segregated, he says, "from a class perspective".

Martin Grann at Karolinska Institute's Centre for Violence Prevention told The Local on Friday that the fear that the Laser Man connection evokes could cause panic.

"It's a double-edged sword. Sometimes with cases like this, fear in itself can pose a health problem to the community," Grann said while adding that the police have to be trusted for their reasons in divulging the information.

"Sometimes the right thing is to give out more information to help identify the perpetrator. Most of the time, it is the right thing," he said.

Hip hop artist Miri argues that while the situation is completely unacceptable, he underlines that it is important that responsibility is taken to diffuse the drama.

"I hope that this is over as soon as possible and we can get on with continuing are work to promote class and gender equality and Malmö can continue its transformation from an old worker town to a fantastic knowledge-based city," he told The Local.

"The greatest fear of Malmö is from the outside," he added.

The ‘Laser Man', John Ausonius, received his moniker because his victims were targeted with a red dot from a rifle equipped with a laser sight.

Ausonius targeted his first immigrant victim at the end of the summer of 1991. Two Eritreans saw a circle of red light rest on their compatriot's body before he was hit.

The man survived but Laser Man terrorized Stockholm's immigrant population for a further eighteen months.

Between August 1991 to January 1992, Ausonius, today 57, shot 11 people -- most of them immigrants -- in and around Stockholm. He killed one person and seriously wounded the others.

Additional reporting by The Local's Vivian Tse

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