Fatal shootings on track for record high in Sweden

There have been a record number of fatal shootings so far this year in Sweden. Police are concerned this trend is set to continue over the summer months.

A police road block in Stockholm.
A police road block in Stockholm. Photo: Janerik Henriksson / TT

From January to May this year, more than 30 people have been shot dead in Sweden. In the same period in previous years, there has been an average of 17 fatal shootings.

There are concerns that the violence will escalate during the summer – which usually sees a rise in shootings in Sweden, as more people head outside.

“In the lighter time of the year, we see an increase in these types of incidents. It is easier to find their victims”, intelligence chief Jens Ahlstrand told newswire TT.

In 2020 and 2021, a record number of fatal shootings were registered in Sweden, when 47 people died from gun shots in each year.

Sweden’s intelligence chiefs say there are several “red” zones across the country, where the risk of new acts of violence is considered high. In the western region, there are currently around seven to eight of these zones.

“Should we have an act of violence in some of these environments, we know that the spiral of revenge and violence will escalate”, said Ahlstrand.

In the east region, shootings have increased sharply. Last year, nine shootings took place up to and including May – this year it’s 32.

Stockholm is estimated to be safer now than it was at the start of the year.  

“We have somewhere between six to eight ongoing hot zones that we highlight in the Stockholm region where there is a great risk of serious violence in the near future”, said Max Åkerwall, acting head of intelligence in Stockholm.

He describes, like several of his colleagues, that the situation is fragile and that it doesn’t take much for violence to escalate and for an area to go from green to red in just a couple of hours.

Police under pressure 

Sweden’s gun crime is increasing at a time when the police are already under pressure.

In Svenska Dagbladet, several police officers have testified that murder investigations are collapsing due to lack of organisation and qualified investigators.

Several intelligence chiefs have also expressed concern about increasingly younger perpetrators and a new type of ruthlessness.

“We have had a high proportion of shootings in these environments for a long time, but my feeling is that the intention to kill has become more common, even if it is not always successful”, says Per Lundbäck, head of the intelligence service in the Bergslagen region. 

Jale Poljarevius, head of the intelligence service in the central region, describes the fight against the gangs as an “infinite game” – a match without end.

“It’s a myth that you dismantle a network and then it’s over… If a network disappears completely, there is a risk that the void will be filled by others. With that comes new violence – new knife wounds and shootings,” Poljarevius says. 

“The breeding ground [for violence] is very good and we have failed to address that in Sweden – the prevention,” Mats Karlsson, head of the intelligence service in the south region, told newswire TT. 

Head of intelligence Jale Poljarevius said he hopes for a calmer summer but that he has his doubts.

READ MORE: Malmö releases first results from city-wide ‘Stop Shooting’ campaign

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Helsingborg ‘has become major European cocaine hub’

A port in southern Sweden has become a European hub for cocaine being smuggled from South America to the continent, Swedish customs warned Friday following several large drug seizures this year.

Helsingborg 'has become major European cocaine hub'

Swedish customs agents have seized 867 kilograms (1,911 pounds) of cocaine at the Helsingborg port since the beginning of this year, the customs agency said, compared with the 822 kilograms seized in the whole of Sweden last year.

Including seizures abroad destined for Helsingborg, a total of 1.3 tonnes of cocaine had been seized since September 2022.

Magnus Pettersson, a senior prosecutor with the Prosecution Authority’s unit for international and organised crime, told a press conference the seizures “were completely without precedent in Swedish criminal history.”

“Sweden, and the port of Helsingborg, has become the point of transit for South American cocaine on its way out onto the illegal European market,” Pettersson said.

The narcotics are being smuggled in containers often transporting fruits and vegetables on freight ships from South America, in many cases Ecuador, he said.

Hidden compartments are often built into the containers. Helsingborg had emerged as a hub for drug trafficking because the frequency of harbour controls had been too low and security around the port had been lacking.

Coupled together, this meant there was a “near free flow of cocaine” both into and out of the port.

In order to stop the smuggling, every refrigerated container from South America passing through the port would need to be controlled, the customs agency said. The smuggling was believed to involve both Swedish and international criminal networks.

In recent months, Swedish Customs had on multiple occasions discovered tracks from smugglers breaking into the port area to empty the containers.

Equipment such as “bags, bolt cutters and blow torches” had been found, the agency said in a statement.

While additional resources had been committed, the customs agency lamented that few arrests had been made, noting that the only arrest had been of two Albanian citizens after they had collected 47 kilograms of cocaine in December.

Sweden has struggled to rein in a surge of shootings and bombings in recent years, as gangs settle scores fuelled by the narcotics trade.