Swedish PM looks to military for help amid gang violence spike

Sweden’s prime minister on Thursday said that he’s summoned the head of the military to discuss how the armed forces can help police deal with an unprecedented crime wave that has shocked the country with almost daily shootings and bombings.

Getting the military involved in crime-fighting would be a highly unusual step for Sweden, underscoring the severity of the gang violence that has claimed a dozen lives across the country this month, including teenagers and innocent bystanders.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said that he would meet with the armed forces’ supreme commander and the national police commissioner on Friday to explore “how the armed forces can help police in their work against the criminal gangs.”

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It wasn’t immediately clear in what capacity the military would get involved, but previous proposals have focused on soldiers taking over protection duties from police to free up more resources for crime-fighting.

“Sweden has never before seen anything like this,” Kristersson said in a televised speech to the nation. “No other country in Europe is seeing anything like this.”

Sweden has grappled with gang violence for years, but the surge in shootings and bombings in September has been exceptional. Three people were killed overnight in separate attacks with suspected links to criminal gangs, which often recruit teenagers in socially disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods to carry out hits.

One of the victims was a woman in her 20s who died in an explosion in Uppsala, north of Stockholm. Swedish media said she was likely not the intended target of the attack.

Swedens Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson

Swedens Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson speaks during a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on Aug. 1, 2023, on the security policy to protect Swedish citizens. (Caisa Rasmussen/TT News Agency via AP)

Newspaper Dagens Nyheter said an 18-year-old rapper was killed late Wednesday in a shooting outside a sports complex on the outskirts of Stockholm.

More than 60 people died in shootings last year in Sweden, the highest figure on record. This year is on track to be the same or worse. Swedish media have linked the latest surge in violence to a feud between rival factions of a criminal gang known as the Foxtrot network.

Earlier this week, two powerful blasts ripped through dwellings in central Sweden, wounding at least three people and damaging buildings.

Kristersson’s center-right government took power last year with a promise to get tough on crime, but so far hasn’t been able to stem the violence. The government and the leftist opposition have been trading accusations over who’s to blame for the situation. The opposition says the government has made the country less safe while Kristersson put the blame on “irresponsible migration policies and failed integration” under the previous government.

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Sweden long stood out in Europe along with Germany for having liberal immigration policies and welcoming hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa. Sweden has since sharply restricted migration levels, citing rising crime levels and other social problems.

Kristersson said that he met with New York Mayor Eric Adams last week to learn from the city’s efforts to fight crime, including surveillance methods and weapon detection systems.

The prime minister said that the government is overhauling Sweden’s criminal code to give police more powers, criminals longer sentences and witnesses better protection.

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“Swedish laws aren’t designed for gang wars and child soldiers,” Kristersson said.

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