HELSINKI – Swedish police said on Monday that the riots that rocked many cities and towns in the Nordic country are a very serious crime against society and that some of the protesters are suspected to be linked to criminal gangs that deliberately target police.
Sweden, a country with a population of 10 million, has seen unrest, scuffles, arson and violence since Thursday, injuring some police officers and protesters. It was triggered by meetings of Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan and plans to burn the Quran across the country.
“We suspect those involved (in the riots) have links to criminal gangs,” National Police Commissioner Anders Thornberg told a news conference on Monday. Some of them “criminal persons” are known to the police. “I am in touch with the public prosecutor to prosecute these individuals.”
Sweden’s national police commander Jonas Hissing said on Monday that 26 police and 14 people – protesters or others – were injured in the riots and 20 police vehicles were destroyed or damaged.
The latest riots broke out in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, on Sunday night, when a mainly youth mob set car tires, rubble and garbage cans on fire in the Rosengard district. The protesters pelted stones and the police fired tear gas shells at the crowd. A school and several cars were torched, but the situation calmed down by early Monday.
A total of 11 people were detained in Malmö and three were arrested. 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 rebro, the eastern cities of Linköping and Norrköping and the southern city of Landskron.
Hissing said police have been forced to use weapons in self-defense. Three people were injured on Sunday when they were hit by a ricochet in Norrköping, as police fired warning shots at a crowd of protesters.
“There is much to suggest that the police were targeted,” Hissing said, adding that some protesters were suspected of attempted murder, aggravated assault and violence against an officer.
Thornberg and Hissing both insisted that the main targets for the rioters were the Swedish police and society, not Paludan – whom many Swedes see only as an agent provocateur – and their Strm kur (hard line) party, which was an immigrant. Runs on an anti-Islamic agenda.
Thornberg, Sweden’s supreme police chief, said that “criminal persons” who took advantage of the situation with Paludan’s Swedish Easter tour and participated in the riots were the prime suspects in the violent escalation of violence. The unrest grew rapidly after the first Paludan demonstrations, which were met by counter-protesters in several places last week.
“We must end this quickly,” Thornberg said, referring to the riots. What we are seeing here is a very serious crime.
Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said on Monday she had great faith in Swedish police and promised more resources for law enforcement despite unrest over the weekend.
“When you end up in these critical and aggressive situations, there’s nothing the police officers can do but fight hard,” Johansson told Swedish news outlets. “We cannot accept that criminals commit this type of violence.”
Iraq’s foreign ministry on Sunday summoned Swedish charge d’affaires over Paludan’s planned Quran burning, reportedly saying such activity could seriously threaten Sweden’s relations with the Muslim world.
In Iran, dozens of students gathered at the Swedish embassy on Monday to protest Paludan’s planned Quran burning. Chanting “Those who insult the Qur’an must be condemned!” He called “Death to America!” Like repeating the traditional slogan too. and “Death to Israel!”
Nasser Karimi in Iran, Tehran contributed to this article.