Gang shootings have escalated in recent years, spreading across Sweden, with authorities struggling to contain the war-like violence that now outweighs voters’ concerns ahead of Sunday’s general election.
“This is my son Marley when he was 19,” Maritha Ogilvie tells AFP, holding a framed photo of a smiling young man, one of many that adorn the walls of her Stockholm apartment.
“He was shot in the head while he was in the car with a friend,” says the 51-year-old.
The March 24, 2015 murder in Varbygard, a deprived concrete suburb southwest of Stockholm, was never solved and the case was closed 10 months later.
Murders like this tend to be settlements between rival gangs, often controlled by immigrant clans, and increasingly taking place in public places in broad daylight, according to police.
The violence is primarily attributed to struggles over the drug and arms markets and personal revenge campaigns.
It has escalated to the point where Sweden – one of the wealthiest and most egalitarian countries in the world – now tops the European rankings for deadly shootings.
Armed police officers at the scene of a shooting at the Emporia shopping center in Malmo, Sweden, on August 19. A man died and a woman was injured after the gunman opened fire
Police squads enter a building at the site of a reported school shooting in Malmo, Sweden, March 21, in which several people were injured
Rioters burn tires in the Swedish city of Malmo during angry protests after far-right activists burned a copy of the Koran in August 2020
According to a National Council for Crime Prevention report released last year, among 22 countries with comparable data, only Croatia had more fatal shootings, and no other country has seen a larger increase than Sweden over the past decade.
Despite various measures taken by the Social Democrat government to combat the gangs, including tougher prison sentences and an increase in the number of police forces, the number of dead and injured continues to rise.
48 people have been killed by guns in Sweden since January 1, three more than in all of 2021.
There are also frequent bombings of houses and cars and grenade attacks.
For the first time, crime has eclipsed the usual welfare state issues of health care and education and is a top concern for Swedes in Sunday’s elections.
Protesters throw stones at police as protesters rioted in the Rosengard district of Malmo, Sweden, on August 28, 2020. The protest was sparked by the burning of a Koran by members of the Danish far-right party Stram Kurs earlier in the day
“This is my son Marley when he was 19,” Maritha Ogilvie tells AFP, holding a framed photo of a smiling young man, one of many that adorn the walls of her Stockholm apartment
While the violence was once contained in places frequented by criminals, it has now spilled into public spaces, raising concern among ordinary Swedes in a country long known as safe and peaceful.
On August 19, a 31-year-old man, identified as a gang leader in Sweden’s third-largest city Malmo, was gunned down at the Emporia shopping center several months after his brother’s death.
A 15-year-old was arrested for murder.
A week later, a young woman and her son were injured by stray bullets while playing in a park in Eskilstuna, a quiet town of 67,000 west of Stockholm.
The right-wing opposition, led by the conservative moderates and the far-right Sweden Democrats, hoping to wrest power from the Social Democrats, has promised to restore “law and order”.
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has defended the left against accusations of laxism and has promised a “national offensive” against the scourge that poses “a threat to all of Sweden”.
According to Andersson, the escalating crime figures are due to the emergence of “parallel societies” after “too much immigration and too little integration”.
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (pictured center on September 1) has defended the left against accusations of laxism and has promised a “national offensive” against the scourge that poses “a threat to all of Sweden”.
Jacob Fraiman, an ex-gangster who now helps other criminals move out of that life, says even he is shocked by the level of violence.
“I’m from a different generation, obviously we had guns too. But it wasn’t often that you had to shoot someone,” he tells AFP in Södertälje, an industrial town south of Stockholm with a large immigrant population.
“You used to shoot someone in the leg. Now they should shoot in the head,” he says.
At the police station in Rinkeby, one of Stockholm’s deprived suburbs, 26-year-old patrolman Michael Cojocaru says he and his colleagues regularly face brutal violence reminiscent of war and confiscate assault weapons, grenades and explosives.
“You will see wounds, people who have been shot with AK47 bombs, who have been stabbed, people with war wounds,” he tells AFP.
“It’s like a completely different society… a different kind of Sweden”.
Experts attribute the escalating violence to a number of factors, including segregation, integration and economic difficulties for immigrants, as well as a large black market in arms.
The recruitment of young teenagers into criminal gangs – who will not be tried as adults if caught – is also a major problem.
Seven years later, Maritha Ogilvie is still trying to understand why her son was killed. “He was just a normal kid”.
“I don’t know what happened to our society. I don’t know how they lost control of certain areas, but they did,” she sighs. “And it keeps getting worse”.