Monday briefing: What is the cause of Sweden’s ‘terrorist-like’ epidemic of violence?

God morgon. The prime minister of Sweden is calling in the army to help tackle an “unprecedented” epidemic of gang violence and “terrorist-like” attacks that has seen a record 11 people die in shootings in September alone and a wave of bomb attacks – including four within a single hour.

It might not be what we in Britain expect in Scandinavia, but maybe we should have seen it coming – the issue has dominated Swedish politics for the last few years and partly led to the country last year electing the most far-right government in its history.

After the headlines, I’ll speak to the Guardian’s Nordic correspondent Miranda Bryant, who is in Stockholm, to find out what’s going on. And for more on this subject, make sure to scroll down for today’s episode of Today in Focus.

Five big stories

  1. Conservatives | Tory MPs should get over their “excess of doom and gloom” about their electoral prospects and “get behind” Rishi Sunak, international development minister Andrew Mitchell has said. Mitchell suggested that rival groups of Conservative MPs at the party conference in Manchester should be more disciplined before the election.

  2. Brexit | The government has admitted it will cost businesses £330m each year in additional charges when new post-Brexit border controls on animal and plant products imported from the European Union are implemented next year.

  3. Cost of living | Families are eating less healthily and turning to ready meals and processed foods due to the cost of living crisis, a study has found. More than two-thirds of people (69%) said they considered themselves to be healthy eaters but 28% said they were eating less nutritious food because it is too expensive, according to the BBC Good Food Nation survey.

  4. Climate crisis | Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland and Switzerland have all experienced their hottest Septembers on record, with unseasonably high temperatures set to continue into October, in a year likely to be the warmest in human history.

  5. Jake Abraham | The actor Jake Abraham, best known for his role in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, has died aged 56. Abraham, who played Dean in the British gangster film, revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis in July and said he was receiving palliative care.

In depth: ‘No other country in Europe is seeing anything like this’

Ulf Kristersson’s national television broadcast.
Ulf Kristersson’s national television broadcast. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

As recently as 2003 Sweden had one of the lowest shooting deaths per capita in Europe, but, by 2021 it had one of the highest. A report by the Swedish national council for crime prevention (BRA) found that that gun violence claims the lives of four people per million in Sweden – more than double the European average of 1.6 deaths per million.

Last year 62 people were shot dead. That’s out of a population of just over 10m. In the capital, Stockholm, the gun-murder rate is roughly 30 times that of London on a per capita basis. The brutality of the violence is also increasing – including the shocking case of the wife of a gang member being shot dead in the street while holding her newborn child in her arms.


‘We will hunt the gangs, we will defeat the gangs’

“This is a difficult time for Sweden. A 25-year-old woman went to bed last night on a completely ordinary evening but never got to wake up,” Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson said in a rare televised address to the nation last week. “We will hunt the gangs, we will defeat the gangs.”

In just a 12-hour period last week, an 18-year-old rapper was executed on a sports field near Stockholm, a second man shot dead and the 25-year-old woman referred to by Kristersson was killed in a bomb attack in Uppsala, about 70km north of Stockholm.

“Sweden has never before seen anything like this,” Kristersson said. “No other country in Europe is seeing anything like this.”

The situation, he said, is now so bad that the police need support from the military. It is not yet clear exactly what the army will be asked to do, but the police chief has said it could involve support with surveillance, help with logistics and vehicles and contributing skills. Miranda says discussions between the armed forces and the police have already begun and in the coming days the government is expected to enable the armed forces to support police, which would also require a change in the law.

“People talk about there being a big shift in gangs in 2015, and it has steadily increased since then,” Miranda says. It’s thought to have hit a particularly deadly apex in recent months due to a battle for control within and between the countries most notorious gangs: Foxtrot and Dalen.


Who is the Kurdish Fox?

Police officers work near the scene of a shooting, in Malmö, Sweden.
Police officers work near the scene of a shooting, in Malmö, Sweden. Photograph: Johan Nilsson/AP

Foxtrot’s leader Rawa Majid – also known as the Kurdish Fox (Rawa, resembles the Swedish word for the animal: räv) – is one of Sweden’s most wanted people and facing multiple charges for drug crimes and “preparation for murder”.

Majid, whose parents moved from Iraqi Kurdistan to Uppsala when he was one-month-old, moved to Turkey to avoid extradition. He continues to run the gang remotely from Istanbul, and the violence has now followed him there, according to Sweden’s SVT.

Miranda says most of the guns in Sweden come from the Balkans and are smuggled into Sweden – as are drugs – across its largely unguarded 2211km of land borders and 3,218km coastline.

Much of the drug dealing, gangland activity and even murders are carried out by young people recruited from Sweden’s deprived recent immigrant communities, which has increased tensions between longterm Swedish residents and recent arrivals. Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg estimates that about 13,000 people are linked to Sweden’s criminal underworld. “Several boys aged between 13 and 15 have been killed,” he said last month. “Seen from the criminals’ point of view, there are several advantages to recruiting young people. A child is not controlled by the police in the same way as an adult. Nor can a child be convicted of a crime. A young person can also be easier to influence and exploit.”

Under Swedish law people under the age 21 should only be jailed under exceptional circumstances.


The blame game

Tackling the crime wave has been a key battleground in Swedish politics, and analysts say it partly led to Kristersson’s centre-right government taking power last year with the support of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD).

Kristersson has blamed the previous Social Democratic government for “political naivete and cluelessness that has brought us here,”

“It is an irresponsible immigration policy and failed integration effort that has brought us here,” he said. “Social exclusion and parallel societies feed the criminal gangs. There they can ruthlessly recruit children and train them as future killers.”

The SD leader Jimmie Åkesson, who has previously called for martial law-like action including curfews during times of unrest, said his party’s “highest priority right now is to achieve the EU’s minimum level of asylum legislation and asylum-related immigration”.

Magdalena Andersson, leader of the leftwing Social Democrats and the former prime minister, said she was not opposed to calling in the military to assist with “the worst imaginable scenario in an open, free and decent society”. But she said more must also be done to protect vulnerable young people from being recruited by gangs.

“This is not Sweden,” she said “This is not how Sweden is supposed to be.”

What else we’ve been reading

  • Julia Fox, pictured above, is perhaps best known for the least interesting thing about her, Jia Tolentino writes: her shortlived relationship with Kanye West. But there is so much more to her. In this New Yorker (£) interview, Tolentino unravels Fox’s tumultuous life story as they discuss her new memoir. Nimo

  • All of Simon Hattonstone’s interviews are brilliant. This one with Katie Price, is particularly so. Fresh from a spell at the Priory, Price talks about survival, surgery and severe PTSD: ‘I’m good with anaesthetic – I like being put to sleep’ Rupert

  • If you want to read more from Rupert (and why wouldn’t you), then I would highly encourage you read his piece on how Saint-Tropez’s ultra-rich have turned the coastal town into a commune for billionaires and celebrities. Nimo

  • Rachel Hall visited Tower Hamlets, a borough with high child poverty rates and a growing population, after the council announced a £13.7m package to invest in youth services in the area. The mayor is convinced that the funding will pay off and transform the lives of the young people who live nearby. Nimo

  • What would happen if Russia invaded Finland? Tom Lamont went to a giant war game in London to find out alongside dozens of Nato employees and representatives of various global militaries. Rupert


Rory McIlroy celebrates after winning his singles match against the United States’ Sam Burns.
Rory McIlroy celebrates after winning his singles match against the United States’ Sam Burns. Photograph: Gregorio Borgia/AP

Golf | Luke Donald’s European team inflicted a seventh straight victory over the USA in the Ryder Cup. Rory McIlroy was the star of the show, winning four matches in the biennial contest for the first time. Having felt he had let the side down last time out in Whistling Straits two years ago, he used that disappointment to fuel his performance: “I felt like I used it to my advantage and came out with a different level of focus and determination and in a way it gave the whole team a bit of fire in our bellies.”

Football | Veteran substitute Rachel Williams snatched Manchester United a 2-1 victory against Aston Villa to start the Women’s Super League campaign. Brighton beat Everton 2-1 as well, while Arsenal were stunned by their 1-0 loss against Liverpool and Leicester made an excellent comeback after winning 4-2 against Bristol City. Goals from Mia Fishel and Lauren James pushed Chelsea to a 2-1 win against Tottenham.

Rugby | South Africa’s World Cup title defence is back on track after a seven-try, bonus-point victory over Tonga who gave as good as they got, scoring three tries of their own. The five points collected in Marseille just about guarantees the Springboks’ passage to the quarter-finals.

The front pages

The Guardian leads on “Tory factions threaten to wreck Sunak’s conference”. The i has “Tory leaders in waiting threaten to overshadow PM’s party”. The Mail covers an announcement from the event, under the headline “Mobile phones ban in schools”.

The Telegraph reports “Wallace told PM to give £2bn extra to Ukraine”, while the Mirror carries a message to Rishi Sunak from celebrities backing the paper’s campaign for free school meals, with the headline, “Do the right thing, PM”.

The Financial Times says “Exporters face hefty EU carbon tax after Sunak weakens climate policies”. The Telegraph leads with “Doctor handed £7,900 to cover one strike shift”. Finally, the Sun reports “Russian hackers attack Royals”.

Today in Focus

Gangs of Stockholm: the rise of gun crime in Sweden

Miranda Bryant has also spoken to Nosheen Iqbal about the rise in violence in Sweden, that has prompted a national debate about inclusion and poverty. Nosheen also hears from Sebastian Stakset, who spent his 20s involved in violent gang crime for which he spent time in prison. He describes how he lost more than 30 friends to gun violence. Now he works with young people to help steer them away from gangs

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The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Mark Fuhrmann viewed retirement as a new season of life, one where he wanted to experience and see new things by himself. To this end, Fuhrmann set off on two life-changing trips: a 3,700 mile kayaking tour when he was 60 and, five years later, a 6,835 mile round trip from Nova Scotia, that took him all over the US, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.

A spontaneous man, Fuhrmann did not plan either of his trips beyond a vague goal of travelling around 40km a day – Fuhrmann did not know where he would lay his head nor where he would start his days. Though this was thrilling, it presented significant, sometimes life threatening challenges. In Florida he was chased by an alligator; at Lake Huron he woke up from a nap on to see a brown bear swimming a few feet away. It was difficult and anxiety-inducing however he was also confronted by the kindness and generosity of strangers, which often kept him going.

The 14-month long trip was an important opportunity for Fuhrmann to slow down, reboot and “discover the value and power of just being silent”.

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Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.