Society

Nordic Mob? Why Organized Crime Is Exploding In Sweden

While remaining a remarkably safe country, Sweden is facing a recent surge of gang crimes that worries authorities, including a bombing in Gothenburg on Sep. 28th that injured more than 20. The fact that these family-based networks often have roots in North Africa and the Middle East is fueling criticism about the country's immigration policies.


Swedish police officers walk towards a cordoned-off scene in Gothenburg, after the Sept. 28 explosion at a multi-family complex

Police officers in Gothenburg after the Sept. 28 blast

Carl Karlsson

Is this Sweden … or Sicily?

An explosion in a multi-family complex in the western Swedish city of Gothenburg on Tuesday has sparked a national debate over harsher punishment for organized crime.

The blast that left four people seriously injured and more than 20 hospitalized is still under police investigation. It is the latest in a series of explosions around Sweden linked to gang and mob violence; bombings in particular have increased dramatically in the last years, recalling the Mafia's campaign of violence on the Italian island of Sicily in the 1980s and 1990s.

From 2014, such targeted explosions in Sweden have risen from a handful to 107 in 2020 — the sharpest increase in any European country. Meanwhile, gun-related violence is on the rise too, with 366 confirmed shootings in 2020, claiming 47 lives, as daily Svenska Dagbladet reports. Today, lethal gun-violence in Sweden is almost three times higher than the per-capita European average, while the country's year-by-year increase is by far the continent's highest.

A wave of crime that sparked anti-terror debate

While overall crime levels in Sweden remain low, and homicide rates have fallen since the 1990s, it is particularly gang-related violence that worries authorities. A police report last year mapped out 36 different "clans" in major Swedish cities, tracking these family-based networks that often have roots in North Africa and the Middle East. These organizations engage in extortion and drug trafficking, fight each other over turf, and often have ties to other criminal outfits such as motorcycle clubs.

The crime wave has sparked a debate over extending the current anti-terrorism laws to also cover organized crime, which would grant courts the right to convict members of criminal groups even if no crime has yet been committed. Such a move in heavily unionized Sweden is particularly controversial as the country's welfare state was built on the right to association and organization.

In 2019, a government proposal for an extended anti-terror law was quashed after it was deemed incompatible with Sweden's constitutional freedom of association.

Criminal groupings represent a very small fraction of Swedish migrants.

Still, the Swedish government has recently proposed the largest-ever reform of the country's criminal code, including expanded surveillance rights, harsher sentences for organized crime and threatening witnesses, as well as a plan to add 10,000 police officers by 2024.

While some of the legal changes have already been implemented, Sweden's center-right opposition expresses doubts as to whether the measures proposed will be enough to curb the spread of violence, suggesting harsher action like deportation of non-Swedish citizens found guilty of committing crimes.

Photo of people looking at candles and flowers at a vigil in memory memorial of victims of a gang shootout in Norsborg, Sweden, in August 2020

A memorial for victims of a gang shootout in Norsborg, Sweden, in August 2020

Ali Lorestani / Tt/TT/ ZUMA

Tougher new laws in Germany and France

The rise in violence has also given ammunition to those opposed to the government's decision in 2015 to accept more refugees per capita than any other country — with 163,000 people applying for asylum that year. However, evidence points to the fact that these clan networks have been present in Sweden for decades, while some members have arrived more recently to give support to their respective clans in local conflicts or to expand the criminal network. It's also worth noting that criminal groupings represent a very small fraction of Swedish migrants. Between 2015 and 2018, only 8% of migrants born abroad were suspected of crime; and for second-generation migrants — with parents born in Sweden — the number was 3%, according to a government report cited in Dagens Nyheter.

The opposition has also pointed to other European countries that have introduced tougher anti-terror legislation in the last decade. Germany passed a law in 2015 that made it a crime to travel outside the country with the intent to receive terrorist training. More recently, France adopted new legislation in July that reinforces anti-terrorism and intelligence-gathering legislation by incorporating emergency regulations into regular law.

It remains to be seen if Sweden follows suit. And while the country's recent wave of violence resembles gang warfare more than ideological or religious terrorism, experts note that the criminal networks often operate in similar ways — and eventually can be dismantled in the same way too.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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