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Wave of shootings, bombings push Swedish police to set up gang violence task force

Damaged balconies and windows at a block of flats that were hit by an explosion Friday morning June 7, 2019 in Linkoping, Central Sweden. (Jeppe Gustafsson).
Damaged balconies and windows at a block of flats that were hit by an explosion Friday morning June 7, 2019 in Linkoping, Central Sweden. (Jeppe Gustafsson). The Associated Press

Swedish police will set up a special task force to deal with a wave of shootings and bombings linked to criminal gangs following the fatal shooting of a 15-year old in the city of Malmo at the weekend.

Sweden has long held a reputation as being one of the safest countries in the world and while overall crime and murder rates remain low, gang wars in major cities have claimed an increasing number of victims in recent years.

READ MORE: Teen dead, another in critical condition after shooting in southern Sweden

On Saturday, two 15-year-olds were shot outside a pizza restaurant in Malmo in what police said appeared to be a gang conflict over control of the drug trade in the area. One died immediately and the other is in critical condition.

“The weekend was a black weekend for Malmo and for the Malmo police,” Malmo police chief Stefan Sinteus told reporters.

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The attack was preceded by a large car bomb about a mile away which police believe was intended to divert their attention.

Safe place to grieve the victims of gang violence
Safe place to grieve the victims of gang violence

Following the attack, the police’s Department of National Operations said they had set up a special task force with a nationwide mandate to fight gang activities, to be called Operation Hoarfrost.

Sweden has been hit by a surge in gang violence in recent years with police saying last week that there had been 187 bomb attacks so far this year, up from 152 in the whole of 2018.

In June, about 20 people were wounded when a bomb exploded on a residential street in Linkoping in southern Sweden.

A view of a block of flats that was reportedly hit by an explosion in Linkoping, central Sweden, 07 June 2019. (EPA/JEPPE GUSTAFSSON SWEDEN OUT)
A view of a block of flats that was reportedly hit by an explosion in Linkoping, central Sweden, 07 June 2019. (EPA/JEPPE GUSTAFSSON SWEDEN OUT)

By the end of August, about 26 people had been shot dead in Sweden against 45 last year as a whole and pressure on the government to act has been mounting.

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The ruling coalition of the Social Democrats and Greens has sharpened sentences for gun crimes and promised extra resources for the police. But opposition parties claim the effort is too litte, too late.

On Monday, the far-right Sweden Democrats, who have been gaining support among voters worried about violent crime, called a motion of no confidence in Justice Minister Morgan Johansson.

“He has done too little,” Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson told Swedish radio. “There is a lot of talk where they send signals, but in practice nothing happens.”

Danish police check travellers from Sweden, near the Highway coming out of the Tunnel near Copenhagen, Denmark, Tuesday Nov. 12, 2019. (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)
Danish police check travellers from Sweden, near the Highway coming out of the Tunnel near Copenhagen, Denmark, Tuesday Nov. 12, 2019. (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

One day later, Danish police began performing border checks at the country’s crossings with Sweden. Danish authorities say the recent shooting and explosions were carried out by people crossing the waterway between the Scandinavian neighbours.

The checks were conducted on trains and vehicles crossing the Oresund Bridge over the narrow waterway that separates Copenhagen, Denmark’s largest city, and Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city. Checks were also carried out at ferry ports.

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Police spokesman Jens Jespersen told The Associated Press that officers at the Oresund Bridge vehicle checkpoint had “a particular focus on cross-border crime involving explosives, weapons and drugs.”

He also said authorities were stopping cars to have “a peek at who is inside.”

— With files from the Associated Press