Why shootings are on the increase in Sweden’s suburbs

As Sweden's gun problem escalates to new heights, Antoine Allen explores why shootings are spiraling out of control.

"Our kids are actually dying - and it's weekly. Mother after mother, after mother is burying their kids," the heartbreaking words I heard from Maritha, a mother whose son Marley was shot dead on the streets of Stockholm. 

Maritha spends her time campaigning to end gun crime, whilst her son's killer is yet to face justice. 

When I travelled to Stockholm for my On Assignment report, Maritha would be the first person to tell me the primary factor driving Sweden's rising gun crime murders was segregation, but she would not be last. 

The headlines about serious youth violence and gang crime bring to mind cities such as London, New York and Sao Paulo. 

But, few would think of or know that Stockholm, Sweden, has become one of the worst places in Europe for Gun violence. 

Maritha speaking to Antoine Allen about the death of her son Marley. Credit: On Assignment, ITV News

Abba, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Ikea, Spotify and Vikings are some of the things that come to mind when people think of Sweden. 

And Sweden's most streamed artist on Spotify, the rapper, Einar, could have become the Scandinavian's next biggest export, but the 19-year-old, who died after being shot in the head, became another victim of Sweden's gun violence epidemic.

In 2021, Swedish police reported there were at least 342 shootings and 46 gun related murders, an increase from 25 shootings in 2015.

Swedish police searching a car for guns. Credit: On Assignment, ITV News

As I walked the cobbled streets of central Stockholm, past the barely guarded royal palace and parliament, the inner city looked as clean, peaceful and homogeneous as I had imagined- not all were blonde and blue eyed, but the vast majority were white.

Yet a short taxi ride to Rinkeby, situated in the suburbs of Stockholm, I saw a population of recent second and third generation migrants. 

On the surface, Rinkeby looked like any other town. 

Just like Stockholm, it was clean and seemed peaceful. 

Yet, as I walked around the small town with journalist Diamant Salihu, I was told stories of shootings at busy locations, such as the town's pizzeria, a park opposite a school, a block of flats and garages.

It felt like the people of Rinkeby were always a few yards away from the site of a gun murder. 

Local people, police officers, and an award-winning journalist told me that Sweden is a segregated country. 

The polar opposite communities are separated by class, race and wealth.

Yet, the country's gun crime unites all through the driving force of the violence - the lucrative drug trade. 

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The dealers, the users and the abusers all play a part in the circle of violence.

The illegal drug trade in Sweden is estimated to have been worth up to 6.9 billion SEK between 2015 and 2019. 

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Sweden has the highest proportions of drug-related deaths in the entire European Union, with 81 cases per 1 million citizens, nearly four times higher than the EU average.

Controlling the flow of drugs and money fuels organised crime and violence across Sweden, as with most cities around the world, that have issues with gang and gun violence.

From Stockholm to London, the story of gun murders isn't due to either city being the 'wild west', but the result of organised crime and social deprivation. 

Police have seized weapons such as this Uzi pistol. Credit: On Assignment, ITV News

In 2021, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people who "have a line of cocaine may not think that they're causing anyone harm, or that they're playing a part in a criminal enterprise". 

He argued that they are the "final link in a chain that has suffering, violence and exploitation at every stage."

In Sweden, I would find out that young people are groomed into gangs. 

The gangs exploit Sweden's minimal criminal sentencing laws.

This has resulted in so called 'hit men' often being 'hit boys', teenagers who know they can only receive a maximum of 4 years in prison, even for murder. 

My On Assignment report took me on a journey where I spoke to the victims of gun violence and the people trying to save lives and make the often divided country safe for all. 

The Swedish government told the programme that they had increased sentences and police levels and last year imprisoned a record number of offenders.

You can watch the whole episode of On Assignment Tuesday May 31 at 22.45 on ITV.