Swedish police chief: No international equivalent to Sweden’s wave of bombings

Sweden's sees 'no equivalent internationally' to its wave of bombings this year, national police chief Anders Thornberg said as he addressed public concern about the increasing use of explosives by criminal gangs.

Swedish police chief: No international equivalent to Sweden's wave of bombings
Sweden's police chief Anders Thornberg, right, with the head of the national criminal intelligence unit, Linda Staaf. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

Regularly placed near the top of the UN's Human Development Index and among the world's richest countries in terms of GDP per capita, the Scandinavian country is facing an unusual challenge as bombings become a regular occurrence.

“We see no equivalent internationally,” Swedish police commissioner Thornberg said on Wednesday, addressing public concern about the escalating violence.

“I understand that many people are worried about what is happening, there's a sense that the criminals' vendettas are creeping closer to the general public,” he said.

In the past week alone, a bomb exploded in a stairwell in a Malmö apartment building, an explosive device was found outside a shopping centre in the southern town of Kristianstad, and a blast rocked the balcony at a block of apartments in Hässleholm in southern Sweden.

While few of the blasts have caused serious injuries, the national bomb squad has been called out to investigate around 100 explosions in the first 10 months of the year.

That's more than double the number for the same period last year. In addition, more than 70 undetonated devices have been investigated.

“You have to conclude that this has become a trend, one that is escalating,” Linda Staaf, head of the national police's criminal intelligence unit, told AFP.

Apartment buildings, small businesses and police stations have been targeted.

The bombs have varied in size, with some the equivalent of large fireworks while others have been larger: in June a blast ripped apart the facade of two apartment buildings in the town of Linköping.


An explosion in Hässleholm, southern Sweden, on November 7th. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The full picture behind the bombings is complex, and overall Sweden remains a country with low levels of violence.

“It seems likely that a lot of the time it's about sending a message rather than actually hurting someone,” crime researcher Manne Gerell told The Local last week. “But [the motives are] largely unknown since most cases aren't solved, and it's unknown the extent to which the explosions are performed by non-gang members.”

The bombings are largely the result of vendettas between criminal gangs, Staaf told AFP.

Criminals have increasingly been using explosives over the last several years, but while they previously preferred hand grenades and other factory-made explosives, they have recently shifted to home-made and more powerful devices, Staaf said.

The reason for the shift was unclear, but police have established a pattern in the criminals' choice of weapons, she added.

While they use bombs to threaten, intimidate and blackmail targets, they use shootings to kill and eliminate enemies.

In the first 10 months of 2019, there were 268 shootings and 33 deaths, compared with 248 shootings and 37 deaths in the same period a year earlier.

Sweden's main daily Dagens Nyheter also reported in October that deadly shootings of men aged 20 to 29 had increased by 200 percent between 2014 and 2018.

The violence in criminal circles has grown more severe over time, Staaf said, as vendettas, usually stemming from the drug trade, are often aimed at out-doing the other side rather than responding in a tit-for-tat manner.

“Sometimes the original dispute has been long forgotten, and it's just about retribution,” Staaf told AFP.

She said most of the perpetrators had grown up in areas the Swedish police describe as “vulnerable”.

In June, the police published a list of some 60 such areas in Sweden, characterized by poor socio-economic conditions where “criminals have an influence on the local community”.

For youths growing up in these areas with little hope or prospects, violence becomes a way to make a name for yourself.

“We have examples of people who have quickly gained a lot of prestige by fatally shooting someone, on someone else's behalf,” Staaf said.

Police chief Anders Thornberg said the rising violent crime presented an “incredibly complex challenge”, but stressed law enforcement was stepping up efforts.

Around 25 people received minor injuries when a bomb exploded outside a building in Linköping in June. Photo: Jeppe Gustafsson/TT

Surprisingly few explosions have led to serious injuries.

“In most cases it's pure luck that more people haven't been injured or killed,” Staaf said, adding that perpetrators seem to show little concern for innocent bystanders.

There have however been a few fatalities, and the deaths of two young children in two separate incidents in 2016 and 2015 that sparked outrage.

Most of the violence targets criminals or increasingly their families, but bombings have also been carried out over love triangles and even “just for fun”, Staaf said.

When it comes to other types of violent crime, Sweden is still at low levels.

A study by the National Council for Crime Prevention in June concluded that while violent crime had risen in the country, it was still below levels recorded in the 1990s.

And while killings in criminal circles were up, murders within families had decreased.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the average global homicide rate was 6.1 per 100,000 people in 2017, the average in Europe was 3.0, while the Swedish homicide rate was only 1.1 per 100,000.

Article by AFP's Johannes Ledel and edited by The Local

Member comments

  1. It is doubtful that any of this would be happening without the in-migration of muslim “youths growing up in these areas with little hope or prospects, violence becomes a way to make a name for yourself.” Meanwhile, it is a world wide trend that with increased automation and AI, fewer jobs will be available to ALL western youth. … So keep allowing those unemployables into our borders and you have the ideal formula for a bleak and violent future. It’s time that over populated and dysfuncional middle eastern countries focus on fixing their problems rather than exporting them westward. The Left must stop destroying our western values from within.

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Swedish opposition proposes ‘rapid tests for ADHD’ to cut gang crime

The Moderate Party in Stockholm has called for children in so called "vulnerable areas" to be given rapid tests for ADHD to increase treatment and cut gang crime.

Swedish opposition proposes 'rapid tests for ADHD' to cut gang crime

In a press release, the party proposed that treating more children in troubled city areas would help prevent gang crime, given that “people with ADHD diagnoses are “significantly over-represented in the country’s jails”. 

The idea is that children in so-called “vulnerable areas”, which in Sweden normally have a high majority of first and second-generation generation immigrants, will be given “simpler, voluntary tests”, which would screen for ADHD, with those suspected of having the neuropsychiatric disorder then put forward for proper evaluations to be given by a child psychiatrist. 

“The quicker you can put in place measures, the better the outcomes,” says Irene Svenonius, the party’s leader in the municipality, of ADHD treatment, claiming that children in Sweden with an immigrant background were less likely to be medicated for ADHD than other children in Sweden. 

In the press release, the party said that there were “significant differences in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD within Stockholm country”, with Swedish-born children receiving diagnosis and treatment to a higher extent, and with ADHD “with the greatest probability” underdiagnosed in vulnerable areas. 

At a press conference, the party’s justice spokesman Johan Forsell, said that identifying children with ADHD in this areas would help fight gang crime. 

“We need to find these children, and that is going to help prevent crime,” he said. 

Sweden’s climate minister Annika Strandhäll accused the Moderates of wanting to “medicate away criminality”. 

Lotta Häyrynen, editor of the trade union-backed comment site Nya Mitten, pointed out that the Moderates’s claim to want to help children with neuropsychiatric diagnoses in vulnerable areas would be more credible if they had not closed down seven child and youth psychiatry units. 

The Moderate Party MP and debater Hanif Bali complained about the opposition from left-wing commentators and politicians.

“My spontaneous guess would have been that the Left would have thought it was enormously unjust that three times so many immigrant children are not getting a diagnosis or treatment compared to pure-Swedish children,” he said. “Their hate for the Right is stronger than their care for the children. 

Swedish vocab: brottsförebyggande – preventative of crime