The situation in Sweden currently looks more like a crime novel by Stieg Larsson than a peaceful story by Astrid Lindgren. The country’s much-described Bullerbü idyll has suffered severe cracks due to the ever-escalating violence among criminal gangs. Seven people were recently shot dead around the capital Stockholm within just ten days. On average, shots are fired somewhere in the country once a day. Minors are often involved. How could it come to this?

“We probably haven’t had a situation like this since 1945. It’s a dangerous time,” said veteran police officer Jale Poljarevius on the radio program “Agenda” about the latest wave of violence. As head of the secret service in the police region of Central Sweden, he heads a unit that deals explicitly with gangs. “We see that the violence has definitely become more serious,” he said. It is unbelievable that a country like Sweden, of all places, has to experience something like this. “But that is the grim reality that we are facing and must fight with all means possible.”

Now gang crime in Sweden is nothing fundamentally new. The Scandinavian EU country has been struggling with this for several years. Dozens of gangs are fighting each other; according to the government, an estimated 30,000 people are currently members of these gangs. It’s primarily about the big money that can be made in the lucrative drug business. According to Swedish customs, Sweden has long become a transit country for cocaine from Latin America on its way to Europe.

All of this leads to violence, which repeatedly manifests itself in shots and intentionally caused explosions: According to official police statistics, in the first 258 days of 2023 there were more than 260 firearm incidents with 34 dead and 71 injured – some of them victims of the past few days not yet included.

Sometimes bystanders like twelve-year-old Adriana end up in the firing lines – the girl was shot while walking the dog around three years ago. In addition, there have been more than 120 explosions so far this year, although people are generally harmed far less frequently. Rather, these acts are intended to intimidate rivals.

What is new, however: the escalation level. The capital region around Stockholm and the university city of Uppsala have become a powder keg. Seven people were shot here between September 7th and 16th, including at least one bystander who had no contact with the gang community.

“Currently the criminal networks are in a very violent, escalating phase,” said criminologist Christoffer Carlsson from Stockholm University. The gangs have also started attacking relatives of gang members. “If it is difficult to get to the members, then they are attacked through relatives,” explained the university lecturer. “It’s a terrible development, but not entirely unexpected.”

At the center of the latest wave of violence is the 36-year-old leader of the so-called Foxtrot network. He is known in Sweden as “The Kurdish Fox” and is said to have fallen out with another leading member of the network, 33 years old. Both are said to be hiding in Turkey. According to information from the radio station SVT, the most recent violence began there at the beginning of September: first someone from the 33-year-old’s camp in Istanbul was allegedly mistreated, then shots were fired at an accommodation with connections to the “Kurdish Fox” camp.

This conflict was brought to Sweden in a very short time: on September 7th, a woman aged around 60 – the 33-year-old’s mother – was shot dead in Uppsala. According to the police, it was a regular execution. Since then, one revenge attack has followed the next – and Sweden is shocked at how increasingly minors are being drawn into the violence, some of them 14 years old and younger.

According to SVT reports, the number of murder charges against minors has risen sharply in recent years. “This is of course a tragic development – that children and young people are becoming murderers and also victims of crime in the vicious circle into which they are drawn,” said Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer.

The young people are attracted to the gangs with, among other things, expensive clothing, money and a feeling of community – and not without ulterior motives: they are often used for rough work, and according to the youth criminal law in Sweden, if they are convicted, they face significantly lower prison sentences than adults – This means that the gangs can use them again after just a few years.

How all this ends is unclear. The government has not yet been able to present concrete plans on how to stop the recruitment of minors. Preventive measures for younger children in problem areas and greater effort in integration are on the table; Strömmer can also imagine separate youth prisons – even for 13 or 14 year olds.

Criminologist Carlsson expects that it will take 10 or 15 years to get gun violence under control – if you start today. An early indicator of the right path would be if the number of new network recruits declines and eventually stops, he said. “Then we begin to see the end – but there is still a long, long way to go.”