Three dead. And all in less than twelve hours. The night from Wednesday to Thursday was a high point in the current escalation of violence in Sweden. Criminal gangs that wanted to kill each other with shots and explosive attacks: Two men die from gunshots, both are said to have had connections to the gang environment. A 25-year-old woman dies in an explosion. She is an innocent victim.

Gang violence has been a problem in the Scandinavian country for years. But the spiral of violence continues. In recent weeks the number of such crimes has increased significantly again. Four out of five shooting deaths in 2020 were caused by organized crime, according to a study that focuses primarily on neighborhoods with a high proportion of immigrants. After several fruitless attempts, the government finally wants to take action. But there is already criticism of the proposed measures.

The current high level of violence is attributed, among other things, to a suspected conflict within the criminal Foxtrot network. According to media reports, the driving force is Rawa Majid, the head of the gang known as the “Kurdish Fox”. Majid is currently waging a three-front war in which there have been acts of violence and retaliation since the beginning of the year, reports the newspaper “Dagens Nyheter”.

“The networks have set up an efficient logistics of violence that is very dangerous,” Sven Granath, a criminologist with the Stockholm police, told the newspaper. In addition, the conflict has become more personal and professional at the same time.

The two regions of Stockholm and Central are particularly affected by the conflict, which also involves sovereignty over the illegal drug market. Swedish media described September as the “deadliest month” in years and were already talking about a “black September”. The violence is becoming more and more unscrupulous and taking on terrorist characteristics. Reich Police Chief Anders Thornberg said at a press conference on Friday: “There is not just one border that has been crossed. There are several.”

In Stockholm, the wave of violence began on Christmas Day last year, when one of the city’s gang conflicts broke out, Stockholm regional police chief Mattias Andersson said at the press conference. “We currently have seven ongoing conflicts in the district.”

The gangs are recruiting younger and younger members. Young people and even children become perpetrators and victims. According to criminologist Granath, the gangs use social media for this purpose. “There are even children who contact the networks themselves in order to murder,” said Police Chief Thornberg.

On Thursday evening, the Prime Minister addressed the nation in a televised address following the recent escalation of violence. More and more children and innocent people are being affected by the brutal violence in the country, said Ulf Kristersson. Sweden has never experienced anything like this. “No other country in Europe experiences something like this.”

According to the liberal-conservative politician, there is a climate of fear in the country. Many did not dare to speak openly about gang crime for fear of becoming victims themselves. Parents in socially disadvantaged areas are worried that their children will be lured into gangs with money and luxury goods.

Political naivety led to the current situation, said Kristersson. “An irresponsible immigration policy and failed integration brought us here.” A reproach to the last governments under Magdalena Andersson and Stefan Löfven, both Social Democrats. The Social Democratic Workers’ Party was in power between 2014 and 2022. During this time, gun violence has increased significantly, said the Prime Minister.

In the first half of 2020, the Swedish police demonstrated an increased police presence in socially disadvantaged districts and those with a high proportion of migrants as part of the special operation “Hoarfrost”. There were raids and arrests. But that was just a drop in the ocean, as the recent escalation of violence shows.

“We will hunt down the gangs and we will defeat them,” the head of government promised his fellow citizens in the televised speech. The previous policy did not work. A new migration policy is needed, harsher penalties, more deportations, stricter laws.

This will make it easier for the police to wiretap suspects, and the penalties for crimes in criminal networks have been doubled, as well as for serious weapons and explosives offenses. Recruiting children into gangs was also made a criminal offence. In addition, police search zones should help, broader camera surveillance. Foreigners who are involved in the gangs should be able to be deported without a court decision.

And Kristersson resorts to another unusual means: the military. On Friday afternoon, the head of government said at a press conference that the army should help the police. The police and the Swedish armed forces are ordered to strengthen and intensify their cooperation. But a change in the law is necessary for this.

In any case, the military is ready to help. It will “do what we can,” said Commander-in-Chief Micael Bydén in an interview with “Dagens Nyheter”. The situation seems to be getting worse.

In addition to things like surveillance tasks that the military could take on to free up police resources, Bydén also sees other options. In the interview, for example, he mentioned the cooperation between the secret services or the use of special forces for explosives and bombs. However, he emphasized that he could primarily imagine simple tasks for the military in combating gangs. The armed forces also face many tasks – and are under pressure.

The Kristersson government is also under pressure. This was actually launched a year ago with the promise of fighting crime. The issue was declared a “political priority”. But since the gangs are still fighting each other fiercely, the Swedes finally want to see success – and not political blame.

If the liberal-conservative government, supported by the far-right Sweden Democrats, fails to curb the killings on Sweden’s streets, things will look bad for their re-election. Columnist and journalist Irena Požar wrote in a commentary in the newspaper Aftonbladet that Kristersson sounded “panicked” in his televised speech because he didn’t want to appear as a “coward” and lose power.

Experts already doubt that the government’s new measures will have much effect. Even Police Chief Thornberg said the deployment of the military was not a “game changer.”

Felipe Estrada Dörner, professor of criminology at Stockholm University, told Dagens Nyheter that the wave of violence must be combated with targeted measures. “In the short term, the crimes must be solved. The risk of being caught must be high, and those who want to get out must receive support quickly.”

In his opinion, projects such as “Stop Shooting”, in which the police work with several communities, could produce results. “In short, it’s about making it clear to gang leaders that violence is counterproductive and that they must make it stop,” he said.

In the longer term, there is only one way: more targeted funds for prevention work – but also more funds for the content-related care and support of convicted young offenders. In the past, there were too many general initiatives and too few specific, preventative measures, says Estrada Dörner.

“There is no getting around the fact that the really tough measures are those that will cost a lot of shared resources over a long period of time to ensure that teenage children get all the support they need to avoid a dangerous life in the “Don’t see crime as an option,” he told TV4.

Another problem is that many of the gangs’ leaders are based abroad, from where they pull the strings and are difficult or impossible for Swedish investigators and prosecutors to reach.

The police and the government are running out of time. According to the television station SVT, the Stockholm police have a list of 150 addresses where the authority expects acts of violence to occur in the future. People from the criminal milieu or with connections to it are said to live there. It is “impossible for the police to be present everywhere,” said Catrine Kimerius Wikström, police chief of Stockholm South. She sees a high risk that the wave of gang violence will continue.

And the wave of violence no longer stops at national borders: On Friday, the Norwegian criminal police announced that the Foxtrot network was registered in six police districts.

Sources: Speech Ulf Kristersson, Government of Sweden, “Dagens Nyheter”, “Aftonbladet”, TV4, SVT, NRK, The New Kosmos World Almanac and Atlas 2022 and 2023