Gangs in Sweden: How often are explosives used?

Police explosion Annedal Gothenburg apartment block
Police stand outside an apartment block severely damaged by a detonation in Gothenburg this week. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT
After a major blast in Gothenburg forced residents of 140 apartments to evacuate and left four seriously injured, are explosions becoming more common or more severe in Sweden?

Up until September 15th this year, Swedish police had noted 60 explosions classified as ‘endangerment of the public’.

Of those, most occurred in the police region South (26), followed by Stockholm (20), and West (10), with two each in the Central and East police regions.

These numbers don’t include a further 49 police reports of preparations for explosions, and seven attempted detonations.

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These figures suggest a slight decline from last year, when there were 107 detonations according to police statistics, and from 2019 when the figure was 133. The term ‘detonations’ is used instead of bombs because this covers a range of explosive materials.

But even despite signs of a dip in the number of detonations, the Gothenburg incident is part of a trend towards bigger, more dangerous explosions.

The most significant explosion of 2019, in Linköping in June, was described as 30 to 40 times as big a charge as previous attacks, with police saying it was a “miracle” no one was seriously hurt. 

While the cause of the Gothenburg blast has not yet been confirmed, many of the detonations are linked to criminal gangs, including biker gangs and newer street gangs. Criminologists have previously told The Local that Swedish gangs are becoming more reckless and willing to use violence, with blasts getting more powerful over time.

“If previously they maybe fired one shot or shot someone in the legs, today it’s more about AK47s, using more bullets, hand grenades and explosions that we didn’t see before. I’d say that’s the biggest shift we see – they’re more reckless, they don’t seem to care about the consequences,” Amir Rostami, a police superintendent turned sociologist with a focus on criminal gangs, told The Local in 2019.

Some years back, the most commonly used explosives in Sweden were imported bangers and hand grenades dating back to the Balkan conflicts. But in recent years, plastic explosives have increasingly been used, generating more powerful blasts.

“We’ve seen a shift from hand grenades towards homemade bombs or IEDs, improvised explosive devices. The devices ranges from simple designs, filling a thermos with explosives and a fuse, to more advanced ones with remotely detonated triggers,” Stefan Hector, who led a police operation to tackle the rise of shootings and explosions in Sweden, told The Local in 2020.

Compared to gun violence — which has also increased in Sweden, particularly in connection with gang conflicts — explosives are easier to use, and also leave behind less evidence.

Sweden’s crime rate remains one of the lowest in the world. Since the 1990s, the overall homicide rate has fallen, but the number of murders linked to criminal gangs has risen, and senior police officers have acknowledged that there is no equivalent to the rising trend in explosions and gun violence on an international level.


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