‘Astonishing findings’ in new Swedish report on extremism and organized crime

A new Swedish report on extremism and organized crime paints a completely new picture of what the stereotypical offender behind those types of crimes looks like. 'We've been totally astonished by the findings,' the head author of the study told The Local.

'Astonishing findings' in new Swedish report on extremism and organized crime
The researchers found that the 'typical' member of extremist groups or organized crime rings are better educated, smarter and mentally healthier than previously thought. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The report, 'Violent Extremism and Organized Crime' was conducted by the Institute for Future Studies and is based on data of a total of 15,244 people who police and intelligence services have identified as suspected members of Sweden's violent extremist or organized crime environments.

The data – which only takes complete personal identity numbers into account, resulting in some 1,817 people having been sifted out – was crosschecked against data from the Swedish Companies Registration Office, Statistics Sweden, the National Board of Health and Welfare, the National Board of Forensic Medicine as well as local records.  

The report focuses on three main categories: Football firms (hooliganism), organized crime (mafia, biker gangs et cetera) and violent extremist groups (such as white supremacy, Islamist and radical left-wing groups).

It's Sweden's first such extensive study of its kind, and as the results began to take shape, report author Amir Rostami told The Local he and his team were blown away by what they were finding. Not the least because a different profile of these criminals emerged, corresponding very little with the stereotypical picture of a failed school drop-out who suffers from a serious psychological disorder.  

“They're better educated, more intelligent and don't at all suffer as much from mental problems as might have been thought,” Rostami said, adding that 92 percent of them have completed their elementary school education, and about half of them also high school, and 8 percent have pursued higher education (university or other). Although 45 percent have a psychiatric diagnosis, only a fraction of them, “a couple of percent”, have serious mental issues, he said. “It shows that to function in these environments, you need to be a fairly high-functioning individual with a fair share of intelligence.”

The 'typical' offender behind these crimes, was found to be around 19 years old, and 92 percent of them were men. As many as 67 percent of them were also born in Sweden, although a majority of them have roots in other countries via for example their parents.

Biker gangs were the biggest criminal groupings, with 5,693 registered individuals, while 5,094 people were associated with criminal networks in socially deprived areas. Some 835 people were considered to have direct links with football firms and 785 people with Islamist groups.

Another finding that surprised the researchers was that all groups “more or less cooperate with each other,” Rostami said, pointing to, for example, drug-related or economic crimes.

The far most surprising element of the study, however, was the high ratio of criminal suspicions linked to the people in the study together with a co-offender – a person not considered to be a member of the criminal groups studied and therefore not on the police watchlist over such organizations.

Nine out of ten of those studied were suspected of a crime on at least one occasion between 1995 and 2016. Although they, together with co-offenders, represented just 4.5 percent of all suspected criminals in the same period, they accounted for 25.6 percent of all suspected crimes recorded in Sweden in that time.

Rostami said the findings equips Swedish society with a better understanding of who these individuals are, and therefore better tools to either prevent these people from entering these type of environments, or help them exit them. “The more we know about them, the better we get at spotting them and developing preventative measures, and more targeted measures,” he said.

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Swedish Green leader: ‘Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity’

The riots that rocked Swedish cities over the Easter holidays were nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, but instead come down to class, the joint leader of Sweden's Green Party has told The Local in an interview.

Swedish Green leader: 'Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity'

Ahead of a visit to the school in Rosengård that was damaged in the rioting, Märta Stenevi said that neither the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan, who provoked the riots by burning copies of the Koran, nor those who rioted, injuring 104 policemen, were ultimately motivated by religion. 

“His demonstration had nothing to do with religion or with Islam. It has everything to do with being a right extremist and trying to to raise a lot of conflict between groups in Sweden,” she said of Paludan’s protests. 

“On the other side, the police have now stated that there were a lot of connections to organised crime and gangs, who see this as an opportunity to raise hell within their communities.”

Riots broke out in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Stockholm, Norrköping, Linköping and Landskrona over the Easter holidays as a result of Paludan’s tour of the cities, which saw him burn multiple copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. 


More than 100 police officers were injured in the riots, sparking debates about hate-crime legislation and about law and order. 

According to Stenevi, the real cause of the disorder is the way inequality has increased in Sweden in recent decades. 

“If you have big chasms between the rich people and poor people in a country, you will also have a social upheaval and social disturbance. This is well-documented all across the world,” she says. 
“What we have done for the past three decades in Sweden is to create a wider and wider gap between those who have a lot and those who have nothing.” 

The worst way of reacting to the riots, she argues, is that of Sweden’s right-wing parties. 
“You cannot do it by punishment, by adding to the sense of outsider status, you have to start working on actually including people, and that happens through old-fashioned things such as education, and a proper minimum income, to lift people out of their poverty, not to keep them there.”

This, she says, is “ridiculous”, when the long-term solution lies in doing what Sweden did to end extreme inequality at the start of the 20th century, when it created the socialist folkhem, or “people’s home”. 

“It’s easy to forget that 100 to 150 years ago, Sweden was a developing country, with a huge class of poor people with no education whatsoever. And we did this huge lift of a whole nation. And we can do this again,” she says. “But it needs resources, it needs political will.”