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Sweden’s New Normal: Bombs in the Suburbs on a Weeknight


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Gang members have begun bombing the homes of each other’s families — and everyone feels at risk. 

 When the blast ran through the Stockholm suburb of Hässelby Villastad on a weekday night last week, I was sitting in my living room about to send a text.

The front windows rattled so hard I thought they might shatter and I broke off typing mid-word.

As I went upstairs to check if my daughter was OK, she came out of her bedroom looking confused. 

“I’m pretty sure that was a bomb,” I said as the wail of sirens from emergency services vehicles filled the evening air. 

I’m no expert on how bombs sound but we already have had two bomb attacks in this part of the city this year, so the odds were that this was number three. 

The first bombing, in January, blew a football-sized hole in an apartment block near where I often cycle. Four arrests were made following the attack, local media reported at the time.

The second, in March, knocked a whole row of wooden terraced houses off their foundations behind my son’s secondary school. Six people were detained in the wake of that attack. 

This bomb was even closer to home.

From the photos posted on Swedish news sites, I could see the building that had been targeted was an apartment block on my route to the local shop. There were no immediate reports of arrests in the case.

I could see residents walking over broken glass and evacuated to a nearby primary school. Three people were taken to hospital.

What started as internal conflict between rival drug gangs has spun into a spiral of revenge attacks as gang members — often frustrated in their attempts to kill each other — have begun bombing the homes of each other’s families. 

These family members — parents, siblings, cousins — live all over Stockholm and across Sweden’s central southeast region, giving the attacks a seemingly random feel.

Hours after the attack on the apartment block in Hässelby, a bomb ripped off the front walls of an apartment in Linköping, a town 200 km to the south. 

Days later, a 25-year-old woman was killed in Uppsala, 70 km north of the Swedish capital, by a bomb placed outside the wrong house. 

The upswell of violence has been so intense, widespread and chaotically executed — inexperienced teenage boys are often recruited to carry out the attacks — that there is a growing sense here that no one is safe from it. 

So far this year there have been 134 bomb attacks in Sweden, up from 90 in all of 2022. At the same time, the number of shootings remains very high compared with other European states: 289 so far this year and 391 in 2022, in a country of 10 million people.

Last week, a young man was shot dead close to a football pitch in southern Stockholm as scores of young children were training. A coach spoke of shepherding around 60 children into a far corner of the field so they wouldn’t be hit by stray bullets. There were no immediate reports of arrests in the case.

“Everyone was really upset,” the coach told national broadcaster SVT. “Everyone was scared.” 

Government missteps

On Thursday evening, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson made a rare “speech to the nation” that was broadcast live on national television, seemingly with the aim of demonstrating that he is on the case. 

He sought to outline how his government plans to get to grips with the violence through increased police resources, longer sentences for convicted criminals, and new surveillance powers. He has even raised the idea of calling in the army after 11 gang-related deaths in September alone. 

But he also had to acknowledge the extremity of the situation both historically and relative to neighboring states.

“Sweden has never seen anything like this,” he said. “No other country in Europe is seeing anything like this.”

Kristersson, leader of the center-right Moderate Party, won a tight election last fall on a promise to crack down on crime after what he has sought to cast as years of failure by his “naive” predecessors, the Social Democrats. 

Alongside his far-right backers the Sweden Democrats, Kristersson has sought to link rising violent crime to high levels of immigration and what he called poorly managed integration. 

But Kristersson’s lack of progress against violent crime is already undermining confidence in his analysis of the problem and his ability to turn things around. Opinion polls show rising support for the Social Democrats and stagnant support for the Moderates. 

The government has yet to bring to justice Sweden’s most high-profile gang leader, Rawa Majid, who continues to operate with seeming impunity from Turkey, where he was recently granted citizenship.

A clash between Majid and a former ally called Ismail Abdo is believed to be behind much of the recent violence in Stockholm. 

Outside the apartment block in Hässelby on the morning after the bombing, a group of residents had gathered by the police cordon in what seemed like shocked silence. 

One older man who didn’t want to give his name said he’d grown up in the building and had come back to see the damage because he couldn’t believe the attack could have happened here. 

One unnamed woman who was evacuated told local radio she didn’t know how she had got out of the house after the blast or where she would spend the next night.

Over the days that followed the broken glass was swept away and wooden boards were nailed across the cracked window frames.

But on Monday morning, smoke was rising again over Hässelby after a detonation in a terraced house at 6:28 a.m. triggered a large fire.

The address was linked to a man accused of a gang-related shooting in a southern suburb last week. 

Blast number four for the year.

Source : Politico

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