Police in Swedish city appeal for public help amid ‘upward spiral of violence’
In an open letter, Malmö police chief Stefan Sinteus on Friday encouraged citizens to provide testimonies in a hope that they might help police to find perpetrators in an array of otherwise stalled investigations.
“I can assure you that the police in Malmö are doing everything we can for suspected perpetrators to be held accountable. But we cannot do it on our own. We depend on you, and your witness statements, to solve these violent crimes. Therefore I appeal now to you: Help us,” Sinteus wrote.
The letter followed reports that potential witnesses in the murder of a 16-year-old Iraqi boy, Ahmed Obaid, murdered in the city’s Rosengard district on January 14, were reluctant to provide any accounts after racist threats directed at his former schoolmates were posted under the photo of his dead body.
“They are scared. They are terrified and are wondering who's going to be shot next," the school’s headmaster told Swedish Sydsvenskan newspaper, as cited by the Local.
“People lie and tell untruths to [mis]direct us. It is a problem for us", former investigator JB Cederholm told Sydsvenskan.
Rosengard, which has received media attention as the “most notorious refugee ghetto” of Sweden, has an over 80 percent migrant population, predominantly of Middle Eastern, African and Eastern European origin. It has repeatedly been a scene of gang and multi-ethnic violence and is prone to social unrest, with less than 40 percent of its residents having a job.
The teenager was living in Sweden since early childhood after his family sought asylum there. He was shot while standing next to bus stop and later died of his wounds. Police reported that several witnesses were present at the scene at the time of the shooting.
"We fled war and misery to find a safe place. And then this happens," the father of the boy told Sydsvenskan.
In his open letter, Sinteus specifically mentioned Obaid’s murder and an attempted murder of another teenager on Saturday, pledging to deploy all necessary means to push forward both investigations.
To help Malmö police to tackle what Sinteus described as “an upward spiral [of violence] of large dimensions,” reinforcements from the National Operations Department (NOA) were sent to Malmo last week and the extra police officers are expected to reach the city next week, he wrote. A total of 130 police staff are currently working exclusively on investigation of serious offenses.
“Malmö police are currently investigating 11 murders and 80 attempted murders. Add to that other crimes of violence, beatings, rapes, thefts and frauds,” Senteus said, admitting his department is “extremely strained” by a lack of staff.
It is not the first time that Malmö, the third largest city in Sweden and home to a large migrant population, has raised the alarm about the increasing wave of violence. In July last year, a spate of shootings, blasts and arsons that followed the sentencing of three men for complicity in the Christmas Eve bombing in Rosengard prompted the local police force to appeal to their colleagues at a national level for “shared expertise.”
At the time, Lars Förstell, a spokesperson for the city’s police told RT that some 30 to 40 people with criminal backgrounds have been involved in gang-related and ethnic crimes linked to drug trafficking and other illegal operations.
“It’s more of a business-like conflict,” he said.
In September, four people were injured in shooting and a car chase.
The already uneasy situation with crime, believed to be aggravated by an inflow of undocumented asylum seekers, prompted Swedish authorities to introduce so-called no-go zones, the number of which rose to 55 in September.
In case of Obaid, however, the police do not consider his death to be a result of gang violence, as the boy did not have any criminal record and was unknown to police.