Swedish police said on Monday that the riots that have rocked several towns and villages in the Nordic country are extremely serious crimes against society and suspect that some protesters are linked to criminal gangs who intentionally target the police.
Sweden, a nation of 10 million people, has seen unrest, scuffles, arson and violence since Thursday that have injured police and protesters. It was sparked by the meetings of Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan and the planned Koran burnings across the country.
“We suspect that those involved (in the riots) have ties to criminal gangs,” National Police Commissioner Anders Thornberg said at a Monday news conference, adding that some of these “criminal individuals” are known to the police. “I have been in contact with the public prosecutor to prosecute these individuals.”
Swedish National Police Commander Jonas Hysing said on Monday that 26 police officers and 14 people – protesters and other people – were injured in the riots, and 20 police vehicles were destroyed or damaged.
The latest riots broke out on Sunday evening in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, as an angry crowd of mostly young people set car tires, debris and rubbish bins on fire in the Rosengard district. Protesters threw rocks and police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. A school and several cars were set on fire, but the situation calmed down early Monday.
A total of 11 people were arrested and three people were arrested in Malmö. No serious injuries were reported.
Since Thursday, in addition to Malmö, riots, unrest and violent clashes have been reported in Stockholm, the central city of Orebro, the eastern cities of Linkoping and Norrkoping and the southern city of Landskrona.
Police were forced to use weapons in self-defense, Hysing said. Three people were injured in Norrkoping on Sunday as they were hit by ricochets as police fired warning shots into a crowd of protesters.
“There is a lot to suggest that the police were targeted,” Hysing said, adding that some protesters were suspected of attempted murder, aggravated assault and violence against an official.
Both Thornberg and Hysing pointed out that the rioters’ main target was Swedish police and society, not Paludan – seen by many Swedes simply as an agent provocateur – and his Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party, which operates on a anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic agenda.
Thornberg, Sweden’s supreme police chief, said “criminal individuals” who took advantage of the situation with Paludan’s Swedish Easter tour and joined the riots, were prime suspects in the violent outbreaks of violence. The unrest quickly escalated after the first demonstrations in Paludan, which were met by counter-protesters in many places last week.
“We have to put a stop to this as soon as possible. What we see here is a very serious crime,” Thornberg said, referring to the riots.
Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said on Monday he continued to have great faith in Sweden’s police, despite the unrest over the weekend, and promised more resources for law enforcement.
“When you find yourself in these critical and aggressive situations, the police can do nothing but fight hard,” Johansson told Swedish media. “We cannot accept that the perpetrators commit this type of violence.”
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned Sweden’s charge d’affaires on Sunday over Paludan’s planned Koran burnings, saying such activity could seriously endanger Sweden’s relations with the Muslim world.
In Iran, dozens of students gathered at the Swedish Embassy on Monday to protest Paludan’s planned Koran burnings. Singing “The insulters of the Quran must be condemned!” they also repeated slogans such as “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”