‘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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Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

A man was shot to death in Kristianstad, Skåne, late on Thursday night. He is the 48th person to be shot dead in Sweden this year, meaning that the previous record for most fatal shootings in one year set in 2020 has now been broken.

Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

“Unfortunately we can’t say more than that he’s in his twenties and we have no current suspects,” duty officer Mikael Lind told TT newswire.

According to police statistics, this most recent deadly shooting means that 48 people have been shot to death in 2022, meaning that Sweden has broken a new record for deadly shootings per year.

Earlier this week, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg said that this number is likely to rise even higher before the end of the year.

“It looks like we’re going to break the record this year,” he told TT on Tuesday. “That means – if it continues at the same pace – around 60 deadly shootings.”

“If it ends up being such a large increase that would be very unusual,” said Manne Gerell, criminiologist at Malmö University.

“We saw a large increase between 2017 and 2018, and we could see the same now, as we’re on such low figures in Sweden. But it’s still worrying that it’s increasing by so much over such a short time period,” he said.

There also seems to be an upwards trend in the number of shootings overall during 2022. 273 shootings had occured by September 1st this year, compared with 344 for the whole of 2021 and 379 for the whole of 2020.

If shootings continue at this rate for the rest of 2022, it is likely that the total number for the year would be higher than 2021 and 2020. There are, however, fewer injuries.

“The majority of shootings cause no injuries, but this year, mortality has increased substantially,” Gerell explained. “There aren’t more people being shot, but when someone is shot, they’re more likely to die.”

Thursday’s shooting took place in Kristianstad, but it’s only partially true that deadly gun violence is becoming more common in smaller cities.

“It’s moved out somewhat to smaller cities, but we’re overexaggerating that effect,” Gerell said. “We’re forgetting that there have been shootings in other small cities in previous years.”

A report from the Crime Prevention Council (Brå) presented last spring showed that Sweden, when compared with 22 different countries in Europe, was the only one with an upwards trend for deadly shootings.

Temporary increases can be seen during some years in a few countries, but there were no countries which showed such a clear increase as Sweden has seen for multiple years in a row, according to Brå.

The Swedish upwards trend for deadly gun violence began in the beginning of the 2000s, but the trend took off in 2013 and has continued to increase since.

Eight of ten deadly shootings take place in criminal environments, the study showed. The Swedish increase has taken place in principle only among the 20-29 year old age group.

When police chief Anders Thornberg was asked how the trend can be broken, he said that new recruitments are one of the most important factors.

“The most important thing is to break recruitment, make sure we can listen encrypted and that we can get to the profits of crime in a better way,” he said.