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Malmö still in fear as gunman remains at large

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Malmö still in fear as gunman remains at large
Malmö's Nazer Yazdanpanah outside his tailor shop and salon on Sunday
11:01 CEST+02:00
As police in Malmö continue their hunt for a gunman suspected in nearly 20 shootings targeting people with immigrant backgrounds, the AFP's Nina Larsson finds the city's residents remain on edge.

It was already dark outside as Nazer Yazdanpanah stood studying his reflection in the back room window of his tailor shop, ironing the day's last pair of trousers, when he suddenly heard a loud crack and the pane in front of him shattered.

"I was angry. I thought someone was throwing rocks at my window," explains Yazdenpanah, who immediately ran out and grabbed his attacker, holding on until he was head-butted in the teeth and forced to let go.

After the encounter, the 57-year-old tailor was rattled and called the police. But it was not until an officer pulled two bullets out of his window frame that he realised he may have been the target of a man police suspect has been shooting at people of immigrant origin in Malmö for more than a year.

Panic has spread in the southern Swedish city since police announced last week they were investigating whether a lone shooter with racist motives was behind some 15 attacks, killing one person and injuring many others, and may even have committed unsolved murders dating as far back as 2003.

"I am so scared. I won't leave my house after 4pm. All my friends feel the same," says Hodan Imi, 31, wearing a white and purple headscarf topped with a floral hairband.

Standing with a group of other Somali women enjoying the late autumn sun in the centre of Rosengård, a heavily immigrant Malmö suburb made up of rows of towering concrete and yellow brick high rises, Imi, who has been in Sweden for about a decade, helps translate for the newcomers.

"There is war back home in Somalia, but here I am more afraid," says Naima, 56, who wears a long, red hijab and who came to Sweden seven months ago.

"There, I knew who was dangerous, but here it could be anybody," she says.

"I keep looking over my shoulder."

The recent crimes bear a chilling similarity to the case of an immigrant-shooting sniper in Stockholm in the early 1990s, and the Swedish press has quickly dubbed the Malmö shooter "the new laser man."

"Laser Man" was the nickname given to John Ausonius, who shot 11 people of immigrant origin, killing one, around Stockholm from August 1991 to January 1992.

Ausonius, who got his nickname by initially using rifle equipped with a laser sight, was sentenced to life behind bars in 1994 and remains in prison.

Unlike Ausonius, the Malmö shooter does not appear to use a laser sight rifle, but police say the same gun has been used for several of the shootings, including the attack on the only known ethnic Swedish victim.

Trez Persson, 20, was killed last October when someone fired numerous shots into the car she was sitting in with a friend, a man of immigrant origin, who was seriously injured in the attack.

In the past month alone, numerous shootings appear linked to the case, including two men shot in the back, a week apart, as they waited alone in the dark at separate, isolated bus stops.

One of the bus stops lies across the street from Yazdenpaneh's tailor shop, which has remained open and where he welcomes a constant stream of well-wishers and journalists.

Standing in his small, cramped shop amid racks of cloths awaiting repair, Yazdenpanah, who fled to Sweden 21 years ago from Iran, wipes tears from his eyes as he nods towards several large bouquets of flowers that seem to reflect the spools of colourful thread piled nearby.

"I can't thank the Swedish people enough for their support," he says with a smile that reveals the tooth chipped in his struggle last Friday.

As if on cue, the shop door jingles open and 73-year-old Anna Christiansson rushes in and hugs Yazdenpanah, who she has never met before.

"I'm here to support you against that bastard!" she says.

"Sweden is not supposed to be this way."

Observers have been quick to point out that, just as when the "Laser Man" was terrorising Stockholm more than two decades ago, the shootings in Malmö come at a time when an openly anti-immigration party has entered the Swedish parliament.

Last month, the far-right Sweden Democrats won 20 seats in parliament, while the anti-immigration New Democracy party made a short parliamentary appearance during the time the Laser Man was active.

But Malmö's deputy mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt-Jammeh insists there is no connection between the shootings and the heightened immigration debate.

"This is not a question of integration... It is Malmö inhabitants, regardless of their background, who are getting shot," she stresses.

Police have set up a special taskforce and profiling unit to deal with the case and Stjernfeldt-Jammeh says she is "optimistic" the shooter will soon be behind bars.

Police however tell the hordes of mainly Swedish, but also Norwegian and Danish journalists who cram into a small room at the police station for daily updates that despite hundreds of tips from the public, little is known of the attacker.

According to a preliminary profile, the shooter is believed to be a man aged 20 to 40 who probably uses some mode of transportation, perhaps a bike, to flee the scenes of his crimes.

As police scramble for more concrete information, rumours abound that criminal gangs have launched their own hunt for "the new laser man."

Without confirming the information, regional police chief Börje Sjöholm on Thursday cautioned people against taking the law into their own hands, stressing that "the danger is that such groups won't have the same evidence requirements as us ... innocent people could get hurt."

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