Gangs in Sweden: How often are explosives used?

After a major blast in Gothenburg forced residents of 140 apartments to evacuate and left four seriously injured, are explosions becoming more common or more severe in Sweden?

Police explosion Annedal Gothenburg apartment block
Police stand outside an apartment block severely damaged by a detonation in Gothenburg this week. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Up until September 15th this year, Swedish police had noted 60 explosions classified as ‘endangerment of the public’.

Of those, most occurred in the police region South (26), followed by Stockholm (20), and West (10), with two each in the Central and East police regions.

These numbers don’t include a further 49 police reports of preparations for explosions, and seven attempted detonations.

These figures suggest a slight decline from last year, when there were 107 detonations according to police statistics, and from 2019 when the figure was 133. The term ‘detonations’ is used instead of bombs because this covers a range of explosive materials.

But even despite signs of a dip in the number of detonations, the Gothenburg incident is part of a trend towards bigger, more dangerous explosions.

The most significant explosion of 2019, in Linköping in June, was described as 30 to 40 times as big a charge as previous attacks, with police saying it was a “miracle” no one was seriously hurt. 

While the cause of the Gothenburg blast has not yet been confirmed, many of the detonations are linked to criminal gangs, including biker gangs and newer street gangs. Criminologists have previously told The Local that Swedish gangs are becoming more reckless and willing to use violence, with blasts getting more powerful over time.

“If previously they maybe fired one shot or shot someone in the legs, today it’s more about AK47s, using more bullets, hand grenades and explosions that we didn’t see before. I’d say that’s the biggest shift we see – they’re more reckless, they don’t seem to care about the consequences,” Amir Rostami, a police superintendent turned sociologist with a focus on criminal gangs, told The Local in 2019.

Some years back, the most commonly used explosives in Sweden were imported bangers and hand grenades dating back to the Balkan conflicts. But in recent years, plastic explosives have increasingly been used, generating more powerful blasts.

“We’ve seen a shift from hand grenades towards homemade bombs or IEDs, improvised explosive devices. The devices ranges from simple designs, filling a thermos with explosives and a fuse, to more advanced ones with remotely detonated triggers,” Stefan Hector, who led a police operation to tackle the rise of shootings and explosions in Sweden, told The Local in 2020.

Compared to gun violence — which has also increased in Sweden, particularly in connection with gang conflicts — explosives are easier to use, and also leave behind less evidence.

Sweden’s crime rate remains one of the lowest in the world. Since the 1990s, the overall homicide rate has fallen, but the number of murders linked to criminal gangs has risen, and senior police officers have acknowledged that there is no equivalent to the rising trend in explosions and gun violence on an international level.

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Why foreigners in Sweden are falling victim to fake police phone scams

Several English-speaking foreigners in Sweden have reported scam calls where victims are told they are wanted by the police.

Why foreigners in Sweden are falling victim to fake police phone scams

English-speaking foreigners, including several international students, have fallen for the scam, which starts with a phone call in which a computerised voice informs the victim that someone has been arrested and that they need to contact the police on a certain number. 

“We have received nearly 380 reports during February 2024, and in 25 of these cases the victim paid out money to the perpetrator,” Lotta Mauritzon, an expert at the National Fraud Centre, told The Local.

“The victims have different ages but most are in ages between the age of 21 and 40 years old. In several cases, they seem to be foreign students.” 

The recorded calls are in English, and come in two variants, she said, with callers claiming to be either from the Swedish police or from the international crime agency Interpol.  

There are two main scams used by fraudsters at the moment:

The ID theft scam

The perpetrator claims your ID has been stolen and that you are now accused of a crime like narcotic, weapon or other offences.

“In several cases they say that the narcotics were found in a vehicle that was rented out in your name, with your ID,” Mauritzon said.

She said the scammers tell you that “you have to secure your money and transfer it to an account in another bank”.

The ‘arrested in absentia’ scam

In this scam, the perpetrator claims you have been arrested in absentia and been accused of different crimes. Pending the trial, the victim has to secure his or her money. 

In two different reports, the precorded computerised message was as follows: 

“This is from the Swedish Police. You are arrested in your absence. If you want to speak to a police superintendent, press one.”

What is the Swedish Police doing about the scams (aside from contacting The Local)? 

Sweden’s National Police have set up an English language website to try to prevent additional foreigners falling victim to the crime, and have also created a poster in English

“Right now, fraudsters are calling with automated computerised voices,” the website reads. “They can say that there is a warrant for your arrest and that you are wanted. The police will never contact you with an automated voice in English. Hang up and don’t trust the caller.” 

“The fraudster may call and request personal data or ask you to identify yourself with your bank eID, or share codes from a bank token or bank card,” the poster warns. 

Do not do this. Police will never ask you to perform a BankID identification. 

If you suspect you may have fallen for one of these phone scams, you should immediately contact your bank to freeze your accounts, and then you ring 114 14 to make a police report.