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Sweden to call in military to help crack down on gangs

September 29, 2023

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has blamed "irresponsible immigration policy and a failed integration" for the violence. He is taking several steps to help stem growing gang activity.

Police stand on the site of a powerful explosion that occurred in a residential area in Storvreta outside Uppsala, Sweden
A woman in her 20s, became the latest victim of violence when she was killed by a bomb that tore up a house in UppsalaImage: Anders Wiklund/TT/TT/AP/picture alliance

Sweden's government said on Friday it would authorize the military to assist the police in fighting organized criminal groups.

The comments come after Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson met with the head of Sweden's armed forces and the police chief on Friday to discuss ways to stem growing gang violence in the country.

What did Kristersson say?

Following the meeting, Kristersson said police and armed forces would have an official mandate to explore ways to cooperate. He also said the government would look into changing the law that limits the circumstances in which the police can request military assistance without giving specific details.

"The wave of violence is... unprecedented in Sweden, but it is also unprecedented in Europe, no other country has a situation like the one we have," he said. "The police cannot do all the work themselves."

In September alone, 12 people were killed in the wave of violence sweeping the country. One was killed in a bomb attack, and another 11 were shot dead in separate incidents.

National Police Commissioner Anders Thornberg clarified, however, that armed forces would not be given "direct" policing tasks.

Kristersson said Sweden's armed forces could help police with knowledge of explosives, helicopter logistics and analyses, adding that this could be done without changing any laws.

Military and police to work together

The Scandinavian country has been wrestling with rampant gang crime for years. Thornberg said it now poses a "serious threat to the safety and security of the country."

After winning the election last year, Kristersson's coalition government had given police greater powers and introduced harsher punishment for gun crimes.

Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson delivers a televised speech to the nation in Stockholm
Kristersson blamed his political predecessors for the dramatic situationImage: Ninni Andersson/Xinhua/picture alliance

"We're going to hunt down the gangs, and we're going to defeat them," Kristersson said during a televised address on Thursday evening.

Kristersson may also deploy soldiers to help curb escalating violence, a move also called for by the opposition Social Democrats.

"This is not Sweden, this is not how Sweden is supposed to be," Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson said.

Kristersson blamed the crisis on years of political naivety, particularly under Social Democrat-led governments and ramped up antimigrant rhetoric. Kristersson's Moderate Party came to power with the support of the far-right Swedish Democrats.

"Irresponsible immigration policies and failed integration have led us here," he said.

Deportation by association 

New laws will give police more power to combat gang activity, including wiretapping and body searches in certain areas, harsher sentences for repeat offenders and double sentences for some crimes.

"We'll put them on trial. If they are Swedish citizens they will be locked away with long prison sentences, and if they are foreigners they will be deported," Kristersson said.

"We are going to deport foreigners who move in criminal gang circles even if they haven't committed a crime," he added.

New youth prisons are also being constructed to separate young offenders from adult criminals.

Kristersson said that efforts were underway to ensure all children learn Swedish.

lo, sdi/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)