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CRIME

Gangs in Sweden: How often are explosives used?

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?

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

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.

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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CRIME

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.

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