Stockholm (AFP) – Three people were killed and three others injured in a gang shooting in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, plagued by rival criminal gangs, police said Tuesday.
While shootings that lead to multiple deaths remain rare in Sweden, the normally tranquil nation has seen a rise in violent crime in recent years, a phenomenon that has preoccupied voters ahead of a September 9 general election.
Immigration, security and crime — primarily in Sweden’s disadvantaged suburbs — are among the main themes of the election campaign.
The ruling Social Democrats have seen their support in opinion polls slump in recent months, while the ratings of the populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have soared.
Witnesses to Monday’s shooting said the victims were sprayed with around 15 to 20 bullets as they walked out of an internet cafe, not far from a police station, at around 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).
At least one of the attackers fired an automatic weapon, according to witnesses cited in the media, though police refused to comment on the reports.
Police said the victims were all known criminals.
“The people involved are considered criminal gang members who are involved in organised crime in Malmo,” the city’s police chief Stefan Sinteus said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The three dead were aged 19, 27 and 29, while the injured were 21, 30 and 32. Their identities have not been disclosed.
No suspects have been identified or arrested yet.
– ‘Wild West’ –
The Scandinavian country has a reputation for being safe, enjoying relatively low levels of crime in general.
But in the disadvantaged suburbs of the three biggest cities Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, violent crime has been on the rise in recent years.
Authorities have attributed the increase to rival gangs fighting over control of the drug and prostitution markets, and random settling of scores between loose gangs of youths who see no prospects in life.
Last year, 10 people were killed by gunfire in Malmo, a deeply segregated industrial town of 312,000 where more than 40 percent are of foreign origin.
In all of Sweden, more than 40 people were killed by gunfire in 2017, and 320 acts of violence with a firearm were registered, primarily in the three biggest cities, according to police statistics.
Police said Tuesday Malmo was home to three or four criminal gangs.
“There are a number of gang conflicts that we consider heated and this is one of them. But we had no indication this was going to happen,” Sinteus said.
A Malmo resident identified only as Sanna told news agency TT she heard the gunfire from her home 500 metres (yards) away.
“It sounds terrible but sometimes it feels like you don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. Welcome to Malmo — it’s the Wild West here,” she said.
“It’s tragic, but this happens all the time nowadays. It shouldn’t be like this, but you don’t feel safe in Malmo anymore.”
– Gang violence growing –
Manne Gerell, a professor of criminology at Malmo University, told AFP gang violence had “gradually increased in recent decades, but the increase has accelerated the past few years.”
Malmo has “bigger problems with gang violence” than other Swedish cities.
“We don’t really know why,” Gerell said.
But one hypothesis “is that Malmo has more poverty and other social problems than other big cities, and in cities with more social problems there tends to be more crime, even though poverty is not necessarily the cause of the criminality”.
Swedish politicians expressed frustration on Tuesday.
Monday’s shooting “is a terrible crime and it just reminds us that our most important job is to bust organised crime,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson told TT.
The head of the opposition conservative Moderate Party, Ulf Kristersson, said Sweden needed to “do more”.
“This has to stop… There are shootings almost every week in Sweden now,” he said.
“We need longer sentences to be able to lock up criminal gang members longer, but we also need to ban ex-convicts from being allowed to return to their old environments.”