Sweden is experiencing a surge of gang violence that has left dozens of people dead and many more injured this year. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has called for the military to assist the police in tackling the crisis, saying that Sweden has not seen anything like it before.
The prime minister made the announcement on Thursday, after a bloody 12 hours that saw two men shot dead in Stockholm and a 25-year-old woman killed in a blast at her home in a town north of the capital. The woman was reportedly a neighbour of a person with links to organized crime.
“We will hunt the gangs down and we will defeat them,” Mr. Kristersson said in a rare televised address. He said he would meet with the head of the armed forces and the police chief on Friday to discuss what role the military could play.
It is not clear exactly how the military might get involved, but previous talks suggest soldiers may take over certain policing duties to allow officers to free up resources for crime-fighting.
Sweden has been gripped by a conflict between gangs fighting over arms and drug trafficking, involving firearms and explosive devices. The violence has mostly affected disadvantaged neighbourhoods with high immigrant populations in large cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo.
According to a study by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, eight in 10 shootings in Sweden happened in a “criminal environment” in these areas. The study also found that one gun death often leads to another, calling it a “social contagion”.
Last year, more than 60 people died in shootings in Sweden – the highest on record – and this year is set to be the same or worse. An official government report published in 2021 stated that four in every million inhabitants were dying in shootings each year in Sweden – compared with 1.6 people per million across Europe.
Police have linked the violence to poor integration of immigrants, a widening gap between rich and poor and drug use. The current government, led by the centre-right Moderate Party with the support of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, has not yet been able to stem the violence.
The prime minister said he would push ahead with more surveillance, harsher penalties for breaking gun laws, stronger deportation powers and stop and search zones. He added that he had been learning from the mayor of New York after a visit to the city last week.
However, some critics have accused the government of using the gang violence as a pretext to crack down on immigration and civil liberties. They have also questioned the effectiveness of involving the military, saying that it could escalate the situation and undermine public trust in the police.