Sweden's gang activity isn't reserved for its crime novels

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Carol Hills: Another violent attack raised security concerns in Sweden. It happened yesterday in the country’s second biggest city, Gothenburg. Gunmen stormed into a pub and started shooting. Two people were killed and many more were wounded. Swedish police say it wasn’t terrorism, but a gang-related attack. Most of us don’t think gang violence when we think of Sweden. But Swedish reporter Karl Ritter of the Associated Press says think again.


Karl Ritter: I think internationally there’s an image of Sweden as an exceptionally peaceful country, probably stemming from the fact that the country hasn’t been at war for about 200 years. But the fact is that the Swedish cities have many of the same problems as cities across most of the world, certainly in Europe and in the United States, with social problems, crime, gang members. While this problem has been growing in the past 20 years, it certainly isn’t anything new in Sweden.


Hills: It happened in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. The port city has had a problem with gang violence. Is there more gang violence in Gothenburg than other large Swedish cities?


Ritter: There is a neverending competition between Swedish cities. The three big ones are Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo in that order. All of them have these problems, especially in some pockets of the cities with lower income areas and with more social problems and crime. In a few consecutive years it was Malmo that was so-called “Chicago of Sweden.” Now in the past few years, people are talking more about Gothenburg. In other years, it’s been Stockholm. So, it’s really probably a problem that exists in all three cities, not necessarily more so in Gothenburg.


Hills: How easy is it to get a gun in Sweden?


Ritter: Well, I haven’t tried myself. But it’s certainly clear that criminals who want to get guns are able to get guns. It’s clear that a lot of them are coming in from other parts of Europe--there is a borderless Europe today with very few border controls, so people travel more freely and criminal groups are able to move around contraband and smuggling weapons and drugs a little bit more easily as well.


Hills: What are police doing to crack down on gang violence in both Gothenburg and Malmo and Stockholm, the cities you mentioned?


Ritter: They’re doing what I think police do all over the place, they try to do deal with gang violence, which is they try to break these criminal groups, they try to go for the leaders of the criminal groups, and they’re also doing outreach programs with the               local community, trying to make sure that they have a good idea of who is in the risk zone of falling into this type of criminal behavior. But it’s a difficult situation where they’re working in neighborhoods where people often don’t have a whole lot of trust in the police. Many of these neighborhoods are immigrant neighborhoods where people come from other countries where perhaps they don’t have the same trust in their authorities as people in general do in Sweden. So, it’s an uphill battle for many of these police departments as they try to deal with this problem.


Hills: What’s the context of the particular gangs? Have police been able to tease out what the issues are? Is it drug violence, is it gang violence over territory? What are the issues at hand?


Ritter: I would say it’s both, and I think, like in many other parts of the world, they’re related. It’s about turf but it’s about who controls the drug trade in that turf. I think there’s also a sense--where many people who get involved in this type of activity in Sweden lately at least, they’re sort of inspired in a way by what they think is a ghetto lifestyle of the United States. That’s certainly something that I’ve heard from a lot of experts in this field that I’ve spoken to today, that there’s some sort of emulation of what they think is a criminal gangster lifestyle that they see in many inner city areas in the United States and they somehow identify with it and fall deeper and deeper into a life of crime.              


Hills: Karl Ritter is a reporter with the AP. He’s based in Stockholm. Thanks so much Karl.


Ritter: My pleasure.