Youths Set Fire to Cars in Violence Across Southwest Sweden


STOCKHOLM—As many as 100 cars have been burned in southwest Sweden in what both police and witnesses have described as a coordinated operation.

Most of the cars were torched in two different suburbs of Gothenburg on Monday, Aug. 13, but a group of youths also set fire to cars, tires, and pallets, and blocked passages and threw rocks at the police in the city of Trollhättan further north. There were also minor incidents in other southwestern cities.

So far, two young men have been arrested and a third person is wanted by the police, Dan Windt of the South Gothenburg police told Swedish Television (SVT). Three minors who participated at the Trollhättan incident have also been identified.

The motives are as yet unclear. The summer has been relatively calm so far, with no major incidents that required police intervention. Previous similar attacks have often been a response to police action against local gang activity.

“We cannot link tonight’s events to any specific action. Neither can we link the events to any particular gang. At first glance, it seems like a number of individuals decided to intentionally burn the cars of locals,” South Gothenburg police wrote on their Facebook page.

The most serious incident happened at Frölunda torg in the southern part of Gothenburg. Several people filmed and photographed a small group of masked individuals who systematically burned cars at a shopping mall parking lot. They also set off firecrackers.

“I saw three or four black-clad guys. One of them threw a Molotov cocktail at a car, which lit up instantly. Then I heard a loud bang,” an eyewitness told Göteborgstidningen.

Car torchings have become a fairly common phenomenon in Sweden, particularly in certain crime-plagued suburbs of major cities, but Monday’s attacks were an extreme event.

Burned cars in Frolunda Square in Gothenburg, Sweden on Aug. 14, 2018. (Adam Ihse/TT News Agency/via Reuters)
Burned cars in Frolunda Square in Gothenburg, Sweden on Aug. 14, 2018. (Adam Ihse/TT News Agency/via Reuters)

“[We] cannot rule out that there is a connection between these incidents,” South Gothenburg police wrote on their Facebook page. Several police spokespeople and politicians have also noted the apparent coordination, but it is unclear which of the different incidents might be coordinated, how, and to what end.

The apparent coordination, and the fact that the attacks come amidst a heated and bitter election campaign, sparked online speculation about political provocations or even some kind of “false flag” operation. Theories ranging from neo-Nazis to Russian provocateurs have been aired, but police spokesperson Ulla Brehm told SVT that they currently don’t believe the attacks were organized by anyone other than local youths.

Burning cars in suburbs with high crime rates and a high migrant population have become something of a symbol of Sweden’s immigration-related problems. Immigration and crime are high-profile issues in the upcoming general election on Sept. 9.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven condemned the “thuggish behavior” of the perpetrators at a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 14 and promised a tough government response. In an interview with Swedish Radio he said, ”My question to these people is: What the hell are you doing? … You’re ruining things for yourselves, your parents, the whole area, and your neighbors.”