Gang wars in Sweden indicate a demand driver.

In September 2023, Sweden was rocked by a spate of shootings that left a 60-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man dead in Uppsala.1 According to police, these incidents had their roots in a conflict between two gangs, Foxnävtrevet (The Fox Fist), led by a Swedish–Turkish boss known as ‘The Kurdish Fox’, and a rival gang led by a man known as Greken (the Greek), over drug territories in Sweden. The incidents in Sweden were reportedly the latest developments in a cycle of revenge that began in Turkey, and sought to attack not only rival gangsters, but also family members – the 60-year-old woman was reportedly the mother of a man closely connected to the Fox. In a separate incident, a 13-year-old boy was also shot dead in Stockholm, with police believing his death was possibly linked to organized crime.2

These shootings capture several trends that have been observed in the Swedish organized crime landscape. In recent years, Sweden has seen a dramatic and well-documented escalation in gang-related gun violence. According to statistics compiled by the National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), lethal violence involving the use of firearms has risen steadily since 2013 (see Figure 1). Although not high in absolute terms, the rising trend is in marked contrast to other countries, including in Scandinavia, where homicide with firearms has been steadily decreasing,3 and is particularly stark in view of Sweden’s relatively small population compared to other European countries (approximately 10.5 million as of June 2023).4 In the UK, for instance, the number of homicides with non-air weapons declined from 80 in 2002/2003 to an average of 28.5 in the period between 2012/2013 and 2021/2022, in a significantly higher population (roughly 67 million).

Cases of lethal violence with firearms in Sweden, 2013–2022.

Figure 1 Cases of lethal violence with firearms in Sweden, 2013–2022.

The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), Konstaterade fall av dödligt våld: En granskning av anmält dödligt våld 2022,

This rise has been driven by escalating gang activity in Sweden: in 2021, Brå reported that eight out of 10 shootings took place in criminal environments.5 According to Swedish police, the flow of illegal guns mainly comes from the Western Balkans, enabling criminals to circumvent Sweden’s restrictive gun laws.6 The link between Sweden and the Western Balkans was first established in the 1990s, when the Yugoslav mafia took control of the Stockholm underworld, but now it is mostly driven by Serbian gangs who set up proxies in Sweden to receive guns and drugs.7

The high level of violence has been variously assessed as having its roots in competition over lucrative drug-trafficking revenues and the emergence of smaller, less organized neighbourhood-based gangs and their propensity to use lethal violence to resolve disputes and make a name for themselves.8 Shootings take place in the middle of the street, and since 2022 the families of criminals (including children) have also been targeted in lethal attacks, including arson. According to local law enforcement, it is possible to hire a Somali or Eritrean hitman (generally a minor who therefore faces a shorter prison sentence if caught) for 100 000 krona (approximately €8 400).9 Criminals have also been using grenades more and more, often thrown at the doorstep of their competitors. The price for shooting at doors – as seen in a January 2023 Twitter video that went viral, using an AK-4710 – was given by an official source as between €840 and €1 250.

Still from video showing an AK-47 assault on an apartment in Stockholm.

Still from video showing an AK-47 assault on an apartment in Stockholm.

Due to the arrest of many criminal figures, the underworld has entered a state of violent flux, with emerging actors pushing to establish themselves and gangs actively recruiting. The need for weapons has been very high; according to a source in the underworld in Finland, Swedish gangsters had begun asking for weapons from Finland – a reversal of the pre-2022 trend.11 The police seized dozens of handguns (Glocks) in one week in early 2023, along with five grenades and one improvised explosive device made using a Thermos flask.12

According to GI-TOC interviews, criminals desire high-end weaponry, such as Glocks or AR-15s with scopes and tactical gear, and do not want old-fashioned Soviet-style weapons such as AK-47s or Makarovs (although modernized AKs with a tactical look were the exception to this). Converted gas guns are also popular in Sweden, as are firearms made using 3D printed components (‘ghost guns’, which are untraceable). With these weapons, it is typically the lower or upper part of the gun that is 3D printed, although it is also possible to print almost the whole gun.13 Numbers are small in absolute terms at present but are increasing, according to Swedish police.14

Prices obtained by the GI-TOC for weaponry offer a revealing insight into the prevailing market conditions. According to a source in the law enforcement intelligence department, M85 and M75 grenades originating in the Western Balkans were the most common type used, but were expensive, with prices ranging between 1 500 and 3 000 krona (€130–€260), although were also given out for free if a pistol or other weapon was purchased.15 AK-47s sold for between 40 000 and 60 000 krona (€3 450–€5 190) in times of gang conflict. Pistols were priced between 20 000 and 40 000 krona (€1 730–€3 450).16 Ammunition was said to be sourced locally.17

While there is no indication that weapons from Ukraine are reaching Sweden, there appears to be a small but steady flow of weapons into the country. In February 2023, Swedish customs estimated that three weapons were smuggled into Sweden every day. According to a media interview with a weapons smuggler, many weapons originating from the Balkans conflict are smuggled on buses crossing into Sweden using the Öresund bridge from Denmark – and some small pistols have even been hidden in loaves of bread.18 In December 2022, a Belgian couple were stopped on the bridge and found to be smuggling 15 weapons, most of which appeared to be handguns, including six hidden in the woman’s underwear.19

It should also be noted that, beyond the headlines, the range of actors in Sweden who make use of lethal violence is diverse. Analysis by Vice of data from the EncroChat investigation revealed that many of the assassinations in Malmö were not ordered by teenage criminals from immigrant backgrounds, as many had assumed, but more sophisticated drug-traffickers in their 30s from Swedish as well as immigrant backgrounds.20 The increasing reach of these kinds of high-value, highly organized operations was highlighted on Christmas Eve in 2019, when a Swedish–Albanian kingpin of an international criminal group was assassinated by a Swedish hitman on his doorstep in London.21 Some organizations that deploy professional violence have also relocated abroad to be closer to drug trafficking flows entering Europe, the most notorious of which was arguably a group from Malmö, known locally as Los Suecos, or ‘the Swedes’, who were arrested in the Costa del Sol in 2018.22

It is a long way to Sweden from Ukraine, yet as illustrated by the ongoing supply of weapons originating in the Western Balkan conflicts of the 1990s via the countries of Central Europe, guns have a long shelf-life and are capable of travelling large distances to reach a lucrative market. And where there are valuable illicit commodities to protect, or disputes to resolve, there will always be demand for guns.


  1. Jussi Sipploa, Kurdi­kettuna tunnetun jengi­johtajan läheisiä on ammuttu, väki­valta ryöpsähtänyt Uppsalassa, Helsingin Sanomat, 14 September 2023,

  2. Ibid. 

  3. See Brå, Gun homicide in Sweden and other European countries, August 2021,

  4. Statistics Sweden, Population Statistics,; UK Office for National Statistics, Offences involving the use of weapons: data tables,

  5. Erika Nekham and Marc Skogelin, Svensk ökning av dödsskjutningar unik i Europa, Aftonbladet, 27 May 2021,

  6. Ardavan Khoshnood, The increase of firearm-related violence in Sweden, Forensic Sciences Research, 2, 3, 158–160. 

  7. Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe, Guns for gangs in Sweden: the Balkan connection, GI-TOC, South Eastern Europe Risk Bulletin 4, January–February 2021,

  8. Max Daly, ‘Killing is simple’: Fear and bloodshed in one of Europe’s wealthiest nations, Vice, 29 March 2023,

  9. Interview with law enforcement, Rinkeby, Stockholm, May 2023. 

  10. Swedish Crime Tracker, Shots fired against an apartment door in Fruängen, Stockholm, Twitter/X, 21 January 2023,

  11. Interview with law enforcement in suburb of Stockholm, May 2023. 

  12. Interview with Swedish law enforcement, May 2023. 

  13. See also Armament Research Services, Firearms using 3D-printed components seized in Sweden, 19 May 2017,; Martin Jönsson, 3D printed weapons on the rise, Sverige Radio, 1 March 2023,; Champe Barton and Chip Brownlee, What are 3D-printed guns, and why are they controversial?, The Trace, 2 February 2021,

  14. Martin Jönsson, 3D printed weapons on the rise, Sverige Radio, 1 March 2023,

  15. Interview with Swedish law enforcement, May 2023. 

  16. Ibid. 

  17. Ibid. 

  18. Martin Jönsson and Karwan Faraj, Weapons smuggled to Sweden hidden in loaves of bread, Sverige Radio, 21 February 2023,

  19. Swedish customs find weapons concealed in Belgian couple’s underwear, VRT News, 28 March 2023,

  20. Richard Orange, Cocaine shipments and botched hits: Inside Sweden’s massive gang trial, Vice, 10 February 2022,

  21. Flamur Beqiri: Swedish hitman jailed for doorstep murder, BBC, 18 February 2022,

  22. Patricia Ortega Dolz and Nacho Sánchez, How police brought down the most dangerous gang on the Costa del Sol, El País, 4 December 2018,