Posted on May 27, 2023

How Peaceful Sweden Became Europe’s Gun-Murder Capital

Sune Engel Rasmussen, Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2023

One evening in early March, Swedish police asked the country’s version of “America’s Most Wanted” to broadcast photos of two young men wanted for a shooting on a rival drug gang in Uppsala, north of Stockholm.


The killing, which Swedish authorities say they believe was a revenge shooting, opened a new chapter of brutality in a wave of gang violence that has turned Sweden, usually known as a peaceful welfare state, into a gun-homicide hot spot in Europe.

Turf wars for control of the drug trade, driven by an influx of guns, personal vendettas and a pool of available youths, many from marginalized migrant communities, have resulted in a gun-homicide rate approximately 2½ times the European average, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.

With 62 people shot dead last year, up from 45 in 2021, Sweden’s overall homicide rate is about one-sixth of the U.S.’s. But in a European context, it is extraordinary. Stockholm’s gun-murder rate was roughly 30 times higher per capita than London’s.

Perpetrators are becoming younger, and are also resorting to increasingly violent tactics such as throwing hand grenades and placing bombs, injuring a growing number of bystanders, including children.

The most notorious gang leader fueling the violence is 36-year-old Rawa Majid, better known as the Kurdish Fox, according to Swedish police and Diamant Salihu, author of two books on Sweden’s organized-crime gangs.


Now running his drug operation from Turkey, beyond the reach of prosecutors, Majid came to Sweden as a newborn in 1986 after his parents had fled Iraqi Kurdistan, where his mother had fought Saddam Hussein’s rule as part of the left-wing Kurdish Peshmerga militia. He later acquired Swedish citizenship.


The scale of the violence that accompanied the growing gang warfare has shocked many Swedes. The wife of one gang member was shot dead in the street while holding her newborn child in her arms. In January, a restaurant in a trendy neighborhood in central Stockholm was struck by a bomb blast.

Stockholm residents say they worry that their children could be lured into crime.


Swedish police appeared to catch a break in 2020, when a Europe-wide investigation infiltrated an encrypted phone network used by criminal gangs called EncroChat. It led to hundreds of arrests. But it also unleashed a war over territory vacated by jailed gang leaders.

Majid exploited the situation, expanding his trafficking network in Sweden and abroad, aided partly by informants in the police force, the EncroChat files showed, before fleeing when one of his couriers was arrested.


Majid continues to be “very active” in ordering violence and running his narcotics business at home, according to Jacob van Rooij, head of the task force in Stockholm’s police that for three years has investigated his activities.

Sweden’s extradition requests, meanwhile, have been rebuffed.


Because most shootings in Sweden take place among individuals from migrant backgrounds, they have fueled a surge of right-wing populism. In the 2022 election, the Sweden Democrats, a party that has roots in Nazism and blames Sweden’s liberal migration policies for the violence, gained more than 20% of the votes to become the country’s second-largest. Today it rejects Nazism and white nationalism on its platform.

The new center-right government has promised to tighten migration policies, double sentences for offenses committed in “gang environments,” widen the use of electronic surveillance and expel more criminals who aren’t Swedish citizens.


Nikoi Djane, a former gang member turned criminologist, said authorities had failed to help refugees integrate into society, instead segregating them from society in housing estates with few job opportunities or treatment for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The perpetrators have a responsibility, but they are also victims of their circumstances,” Djane said.