World

How gang warfare took over Sweden’s streets

20 November 2021

7:30 PM

20 November 2021

7:30 PM

Nils Grönberg was 19 years old when he was shot and killed: one bullet to his chest and one to his face. Images of his lifeless body lying on the ground in one of Stockholm’s more affluent neighbourhoods – the hyper-modern Hammarby Waterfront Residential Area – soon spread on social media.

Many Swedes heard the news from their children. Nils Grönberg, or ‘Einár’ as he called himself, was one of Sweden’s most popular artists. And while middle-class Swedes keep hoping that their kids can be kept away from what goes on among the country’s criminal gangs, the murder of Einár once again proved that this is a mess we’re all in together. Many parents were surprised to find that their kids had their own intricate theories of who the killer was, based on what they knew from rap lyrics about the conflicts in Stockholm’s underworld. And the residents of Hammarby were not the first to discover that even the affluent struggle to escape Sweden’s descent into gang violence.

‘Swedish gangster rapper’ may sound like a Sacha Baron Cohen character. But gangster rap is intimately tied to the country’s gang wars. With lyrics so bloodthirsty that they would be hard to distinguish from recruitment ads for Islamic State, rap is used to build the brands of gangs and show their capacity for violence. Einár, who already had a long criminal record despite his young age, rapped about his Glock, of killing ‘rats’ and even featured hand grenades in one of his videos. The rapper ‘Cuz’, who appeared in the same video, was previously sentenced to two years in jail. Despite this he has been pictured with Greta Thunberg.

But Einár also stood out among gangster rappers as a child of Swedish-born parents, part of the country’s cultural elite. His mother is a well-known actress, and Einár himself participated in a play at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm as a child. He compensated for his background by rapping with an accent and he cited Eminem as an inspiration.

He was also a victim of gang brutality even before the murder. Last year he was kidnapped, sexually abused, beaten and photographed by another crew of gangster rappers, who tried to extort him for a ransom of more than £250,000 and spread humiliating pictures of him on social media. It was also reported that there was an attempt to plant a bomb outside Einár’s house. ​True to the gangster ethos, Einár refused to participate in the police investigation and the trial that followed.

One of the suspects in the kidnapping and extortion plot against Einár was named artist of the year by Swedish Radio (SR), Sweden’s equivalent of the BBC. He couldn’t attend the star-studded gala to accept his prize though, since he was in police custody. He later bragged about this in one of his songs.

Another rapper in Einár’s circle of friends – who collaborated with him on a song where they boasted about getting rich selling drugs – has just been sentenced to one year in prison for robbing a store in Husby. According to the police, the artist is connected to the ‘Hyenas of Husby’, a group currently in an armed conflict with a competing gang.

E5xbgNIWYAI0uZp_(1).pngGreta Thunberg and Cuz, a Swedish gangster rapper (Photo: Cuz)


Peculiar things happened in this robbery case. Suddenly the store owner decided that he wasn’t robbed at all. Two store clerks took back their testimonies, blaming bad Swedish, bad memory and mental health problems. They also apologised to the rapper for acting disrespectfully. Such fits of amnesia follow an established pattern in Sweden in what the authorities call Sweden’s ‘vulnerable’ areas.

Jordbro outside Stockholm is one such neighbourhood. In the spring of 2019, two Syrian hairdressers opened a hair salon on the area’s central square. They were soon approached by local gangsters, who demanded ‘tax’. The hairdressers refused, reported this to the police, and two individuals were sentenced for extortion. But the harassment continued. The hair salon was attacked, its windows shattered.

As the story hit the media, members of the local community flocked to the hairdressers in a show of sympathy. Even the mayor, Social Democrat Meeri Wasberg, came by to express her support.

But even while the mayor was sitting in the salon, the threats continued, as Mayor Wasberg later wrote on Facebook: ‘While I’m sitting there, a young man in a hat pokes his head in and tells them that they have to close, that they have one hour… It’s not clear what he means will happen if they don’t close, but still clear somehow.’ When the channel TV4 sent a reporter to the area to investigate the story, he was attacked on the square.

It turns out that the gangs are stronger than the Swedish state. Police in the end told the two hairdressers to stay away from Jordbro. They have since moved and can now only visit their old neighbourhood with police escort. They carry personal assault alarms and live under police protection.

How many stories like this go untold because victims do not dare to risk paying the same price?

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The police issues a yearly list of areas like Jordbro, dividing them into ‘vulnerable’, ‘especially vulnerable’ and ‘at-risk areas’ – some 60 districts. It’s a list based on qualitative measures. These are areas marked by high crime, by an unwillingness of residents to partake in criminal processes, and by the fact that criminal entities compete with the state for local authority.

But the political scientist and writer Peter Santesson has made a remarkable finding – which has since been confirmed by other researchers – when he was putting together a list of areas in Sweden where the share of non-citizens is higher than 30 per cent. After clearing his list of areas near the border and with student residences, he noticed that his quantitative index perfectly overlapped with the police’s list of vulnerable areas. Only one neighbourhood, the area of Valsta, was missing on the latter.

Sure enough: Valsta appeared on the police list this autumn as an at-risk area, when the yearly update was published.

In other words, variables such as integration measures, school quality and police resources may vary across different districts, but the number of citizens in an area is closely linked to lawlessness and gang rule. That is bad news for a country which has accepted more refugees per capita in recent years than any other nation in Europe, and which has placed high hopes in finding effective tools for integration. Twenty per cent of Sweden’s population is foreign born, and this share has increased at a rapid pace. The equivalent was 11 per cent as recently as in 2000.

According to a 2018 study by the criminologist Amir Rostami, a majority of those involved in organised crime are either first or second-generation immigrants. Dr Rostami identified 15,000 individuals involved in organised crime – a staggering number for a country with 10 million inhabitants.

It is these criminals and their organised gangs that are driving Sweden’s epidemic of gun violence and bombings. According to a recent study by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, a government agency, Sweden now has the worst rates of deadly gun violence out of almost two dozen European countries surveyed, with four deaths per million inhabitants, compared to the European average of 1.6.

And Sweden’s new culture of bombings has no equivalent in the west. There have been over 110 incidents involving explosives in Sweden this year. That’s why Germany’s biggest newspaper, Bild, recently dubbed Sweden ‘Europe’s most dangerous country’. It’s also why Swedes repeatedly cite crime as their top concern in opinion polls. Ninety per cent of respondents in a recent survey by Gothenburg University said that they favoured tougher penalties for gang crime.

The current Social Democratic and Green government has indeed introduced stricter punishments, and proposed an array of new legislation, including wire-tapping of gang criminals before a crime is suspected.

But there is a long road ahead, and the territory is unchartered as Sweden comes to terms with its hardened gang criminals. As Einár rapped: ‘With guns we come round, send you underground.’ The track was called ‘Welcome to Sweden’.<//>

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