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How the murder of a Swedish rapper shocked a nation and put police on the back foot | Sweden

They started heading for the shopping center exit after they noticed the police. One of the 4 gang members, a native rapper known as Lelo whose music movies venerate handguns and violence, turned to trade pleasantries with Mike, an officer with the Swedish police.

Lelo and Mike have historical past. Throughout a current riot outdoors the mall that prompted a killing that would simply have led to a different six, Lelo was amongst 32 arrested. In his subsequent court docket look, Mike needed to intervene as Lelo’s posturing threatened to boil over.

“Now we get alongside, say a few phrases to one another. It’s necessary since you don’t know whenever you’re going to stumble upon them subsequent. Right here, everybody is aware of everybody,” Mike smiled. Right here is Hjällbo, a grid of tower blocks and light flats on the outskirts of Gothenburg.

Hjällbo can be dominated by the metropolis’s most brutal prison community, an organisation that overtly challenges the state and whose gangland life-style not solely threatens to reshape Swedish politics but additionally to undermine its democracy.

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As soon as one of the most peaceable nations in Europe, Sweden is stricken by the worst charges of lethal gun violence in Europe, 10 instances increased than Germany. Its issues supply a warning of what can occur when integration fails.

As Sweden searches for options to its surge in gangland violence, an apparent query emerges: how did one of the world’s most open societies incubate such a vicious subculture?

Police footage of disorder in Hjällbo square in May this year, when two large gangs clashed.
Police footage of dysfunction in Hjällbo sq. in Could this 12 months, when two massive gangs clashed. {Photograph}: Polisen

5 miles south of Hjällbo’s shopping center, the risk going through Sweden is clear on the laptop computer of Erik Nord, the urbane head of Gothenburg police. Sitting in his workplace overlooking the metropolis’s bustling port, the 60-year-old presses “play” on a video.

CCTV in a barber’s tracks a number of males getting haircuts. Two figures wearing black enter. In English, one says, “stand back.” The intruders level handguns at a man’s head. 9 pictures, over three seconds, are recorded by the CCTV audio. The gunmen depart. Moments later, their goal rolls off a chair and hits the ground with a thud.

A former murder detective, Nord revels in catching murderers. Of the 10 killings in his metropolis this 12 months, 9 are solved. July’s barbershop assassination is the exception. Nord believes he is aware of who ordered it, however the execution was most likely perpetrated by younger males longing for standing in Gothenburg’s underworld. Cash was not the motivation. Nord believes they most likely bought as little as 30,000 kronor (£2,500) for the daylight hit. Standing, a promotion in a gang hierarchy, is the ceiling of ambition for some of the 1,000 criminals affiliated to Gothenburg’s 10 or so gangs.

Police fear that there’s little to distract Hjällbo’s children from gravitating in the direction of the space’s infamous prison community. Mike describes seven-year-olds whistling warnings to drug sellers when he approaches. Respectable cash can finally be earned as a lookout – fledgling steps in a prison profession.

Hjällbo’s younger gang recruits exist in an surroundings of exclusion; failing faculties, joblessness and poverty. Integration into mainstream Swedish society seems minimal at greatest. Hjällbo’s 9,000 residents are nearly all immigrants: almost three-quarters of them had been born overseas.

For Hjällbo’s youngsters who present a conveyor belt of gang recruits, the close by metropolis barely exists.

Anna Byström of Younger East, which helps weak children in locales reminiscent of Hjällbo, was struck how throughout a go to to London, pockets of deprivation sat beside relative wealth. Against this, Hjällbo’s segregation is full, reduce off from Gothenburg by forest and hills.

Gothenburg rapper Lelo, whose songs make reference to what many regard as the ‘ghetto’ of Hjällbo.
Gothenburg rapper Lelo, whose songs make reference to what many regard as the ‘ghetto’ of Hjällbo. {Photograph}: YouTube

“Some of the youths suppose that the metropolis centre or the seaside doesn’t belong to them,” stated Byström. Many Gothenburgers view Hjällbo as a ghetto, a parallel society they’ll by no means expertise for themselves.

One of Lelo’s hottest tracks is aptly titled Ghettobarn. Its video, featuring Lelo in a bulletproof vest, is usually filmed in a basement with Hjällbo Metropolis sprayed on a wall. Alongside is the define of a handgun.

An unsubtle risk, it’s meant to be taken critically. Hjällbo is the turf of the Ali Khan prison community, Gothenburg’s most ruthless gang. Originating in Lebanon, the clan has fostered a status for retaliation. Murder, extortion and excessive violence are linked to relations.

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So aggressive is the community that Ulf Merlander, police superintendent for north-east Gothenburg, admits rivals are privately happy as a result of its violence shifts the focus from them.

His officers solely started patrolling Hjällbo comparatively lately. 5 years in the past, confronted with hostility from Ali Khan members and a silenced group, police entered for particular operations and rapidly retreated.

Now they patrol in pairs round the clock. As darkish fell, the Observer joined two officers on a mission in Hjällbo, shouting hej to younger individuals getting back from soccer apply, monitoring the central sq. the place sellers wish to function till the early hours.

The officers knew they had been being carefully watched. “If something occurs, from out of nowhere you may be surrounded by 25 or so,” stated Mike’s colleague Mia.

Mike stated the gangs tried to intimidate: “They may point out they know who you might be, what time you allow at evening from the station. The secret is to remain calm and discuss with them.”

The dangers are actual. Earlier that day a Gothenburg court docket heard particulars in the trial of a 17-year-old accused of killing a police officer in the metropolis in July.

Gothenburg map

On the patrol went, in the direction of Skolspåret, back to the automotive park the place Ali Khan associates often hang around. Hjällbo appeared quiet. “It may appear peaceable however under the floor there may be violence. Simply because you possibly can’t see it, doesn’t imply it’s not there,” Mia stated.

Many worry that violence has turn out to be normalised in Hjällbo. Merlander, who controls a huge space the place as much as 500 recognized criminals function, believes thuggery is woven into the group’s material. “We now have a lot of home violence, violence in faculties. Children are seeing guys capturing and stabbing. They see violence in every single place.”

To attempt to quantify the difficulty, Byström’s group commissioned analysis into children who lived in locations reminiscent of Hjällbo: 85% had both suffered abuse or witnessed violence at house or faculty. “It was staggering,” she stated.


On the different facet of Sweden, Johan Olsson, head of the police’s nationwide operation division in Stockholm, was coping with the shock waves from one other high-profile gangland killing. Einar, Sweden’s most streamed artist on Spotify in 2019, was murdered: one bullet to his chest and one to his face. His killers haven’t been caught.

After demise threats and an incident final 12 months when he was kidnapped, overwhelmed and photographed by a rival gang, many felt Einar’s murder was nearly telegraphed. Definitely, at 19, he fitted Olsson’s sufferer profile. “Many of them that we discuss to don’t anticipate to be previous, they don’t anticipate to achieve 30. The life of these younger males is brief, nasty and brutish. It’s a very, very grim surroundings.”

Stockholm’s tumult is partly generated by a very completely different prison panorama to the mafia-style Ali Khan community that controls Hjällbo. A lot of it’s characterised by a chaotic individualism of shifting allegiances, sudden betrayals and pervasive nihilism.

It isn’t uncommon for criminals who as soon as pledged allegiance to guide an ally into a dödsfälla – deathtrap. “Issues change rapidly, [gangs] are very fast to work collectively, then they fall out. Or they’re immediately challenged by somebody from a layer under. You must construct your personal status, you continually should make your self revered,” stated Olsson – in different phrases, perpetrate escalating acts of violence.

“They dwell life extra in a Hobbesian sense than a Sicilian mafia offensive. It’s an especially individualistic tradition,” stated Olsson.

As in Hjällbo, geographic segregation, social exclusion and lack of cultural integration for immigrants present fertile floor for gangs. Olsson says id can be a driving difficulty. Probably the most violent offenders, he says, are seen as occupying “no-man’s land”. He provides: “They don’t obey the guidelines of their mother and father’ era and they haven’t actually built-in into Swedish society. In order that they make up their very own degree of social capital.”

Many blame poor integration for the violence in Hjällbo.
Many blame poor integration for the violence in Hjällbo. {Photograph}: Nora Lorek/The Observer

Olsson’s forces have recorded vital successes this 12 months. Proof from the police infiltration of encrypted providers reminiscent of Encrochat have helped to arrest greater than 500 individuals. However the drivers of gang recruitment run deep. Others moved rapidly to take their place. The networks bounced back. “We haven’t actually managed to push the risk back,” concedes Olsson.

Assessments recommend the risk emanates from a comparatively small quantity of younger males, about 9,000 linked to 500 gangs. But they carry the efficiency to form Swedish politics.

Hours earlier than Mike and Mia started their patrol round Hjällbo, the nation’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, resigned, his credibility punctured by the gang violence. On Monday his successor, Magdalena Andersson, was voted in after pledges to finish city segregation and “smoke out” the gangs. When elections are held subsequent 12 months, each the centre-right and nationalist events will undoubtedly focus on gang violence, pinning the blame on immigration.

A change in management is unlikely to mood the world forces propelling the violence. Extra medicine can be found and extra individuals are utilizing them. Over the summer season, Nord’s officers measured the presence of narcotics in Gothenburg’s sewers. Massive portions had been detected regardless of how rich or poor the district. “Quite a bit of medicine had been coming by means of,” he stated. He remembers how small cocaine seizures used to lift avenue costs. Now, a 100-kilo bust has scant impact. Sweden’s criminals have decamped to Spain to supply bigger portions extra straight from South American importers. Earlier this month a shootout between Gothenburg gangs in Marbella left a man combating for his life. Final month Spanish police arrested seven members of two armed Swedish gangs in Málaga.


Bother flares swiftly in Hjällbo. In Could shopkeepers, exasperated with drug sellers linked to junior Ali Khan members, determined to beat them up.

Riots quickly swept Hjällbo, with 150 males seen combating close to the mall. Two days later, throughout Sunday lunchtime, a gunman assassinated a 44-year-old store proprietor with a bullet to the head. Shocked witnesses dragged the killer from his getaway bike.

“They’d have overwhelmed him to demise until a police officer arrived firing his gun to avoid wasting him,” stated Nord. Fearing additional Ali Khan revenge, Hjällbo shopkeepers contacted relations in Essen, Germany, for backup. Police tracked 20 people heading north, stopping them at the Øresund Bridge – with recent rounds of tit-for-tat retaliation.

Nord is aware of this 12 months’s gang murder tally in Gothenburg could possibly be considerably increased. “We’ve had three murders with handguns [gang killings]. It’s fairly low. It may have been 10.” But police had observed one thing new throughout the rioting. Usually throughout dysfunction in Hjällbo, gang members would cease combating and flip on the authorities. This time, even the Ali Khan footsoldiers obeyed officers trying to revive peace.

Gothenberg police chief Erik Nord. ‘We’ve had three murders. It could have been 10.’
Gothenberg police chief Erik Nord. ‘We’ve had three murders. It may have been 10.’ {Photograph}: Ibl/Shutterstock

For Merlander, it was affirmation his technique had paid off. Confronted with an impenetrable group cowed by the Ali Khan clan, the state had largely deserted Hjällbo. Nobody spoke to the police. Intelligence, the golden foreign money of crimefighting, was non-existent. “Throughout a earlier riot in 2016, individuals shut their curtains. Now they opened their home windows and screamed ‘arrest the bastards’,” stated Merlander.

This turnaround had been constructed on old-school policing, he stated – pounding the streets in uniform, speaking to everybody, together with the Ali Khans. Officers had been advised to memorise the names and backstory of no less than 100 gang members. Some can recite the particulars of greater than 300.

“If you happen to handle criminals by their identify, you turn out to be human. Their behaviour adjustments,” stated Merlander. Concurrently, he started hounding the Ali Khan community. Conferences had been held with its patriarch, 64-year-old Imam Hashem Ali Khan. “I advised him that ‘we’re going to chase you’. I needed to be very clear. It offers them a likelihood to vary.”

Merlander, who has labored Hjällbo’s streets for 18 years, testified in court docket towards the Ali Khan clan, accusing them of terrorising the space all through that interval. Though the patriarch escaped jail, the group had been served discover that a new boss was on the town.

The place as soon as his officers coped with an intelligence vacuum, Merlander says they now obtain so many tip-offs it’s unattainable to sift by means of all of them.


No one is aware of when, how – or if – the violence will finish, however Hjällbo’s trajectory presents a glimmer of hope. But Sweden’s famed openness nonetheless presents obstacles to policing. Points reminiscent of privateness override requires elevated investigative powers.

Nord’s detectives are denied prepared entry to the CCTV community, together with ANPR (computerized number-plate recognition) expertise and even entry to visitors cameras. Solely lately have they been capable of faucet telephones. But profitable back the belief of Hjällbo’s residents presents a back-to-basics reminder for UK policing, scuffling with a loss of belief, significantly amongst black communities.

Byström argues that the subsequent steps must focus on decreasing segregation, bettering training and prevention to chop gang recruitment. “We have to attain households a lot earlier.” Different points want investigating, she provides. As an example, nobody actually is aware of the numbers of girls and women drawn into the orbit of Gothenburg’s gangs, or the risks they face.

Back on patrol, Mike and Mia transfer away from the mall following the assembly with Lelo and associates. “We wish to talk with them in order that they perceive that is our territory,” she stated. Loosening the grip of the Ali Khan community will, they recognize, take time. “There’s no fast repair, this can take no less than one era,” Mike says, crossing the bridge excessive above Hjällbo’s tram station.

Graffitied on its sides, the most outstanding half of Hjällbo, are the phrases: See With Us You Be Smiling. It’s the title of Lelo’s newest launch – a assertion that the gangs and not the state supply reward.

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