Tue, Nov 09, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Police arrest man in Swedish shootings

AP, MALMO, Sweden

Lang Conteh thought the two loud cracks were fireworks from the nightclub. Then he spun around and saw his Jamaican friend on the ground. A bullet had grazed his trouser leg, ripping a cellphone and ID card from his pocket.

Police say the June 26 attack is among about 15 shootings of immigrants linked to a lone gunman over the last year. The victims have been shot at by bus stops, in their cars, through the window of a gym. One died, several were wounded and a climate of fear blanketed Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city.

Police said on Sunday they had arrested a suspect in the serial shootings, a 38-year-old Swede with a gun license and no previous criminal record.

After questioning, a prosecutor formally arrested the man on suspicion of one count of murder and seven counts of attempted murder. He denied the allegations, police spokesman Borje Sjoholm told reporters.

The shootings came amid growing tensions over immigration in Sweden. The far-right Sweden Democrats entered Parliament for the first time in Sept. 19 elections, winning 20 of the 349 seats.

Their support is strongest in southern Sweden, including pockets of Malmo where some ethnic Swedes blame the high crime rate on the influx of immigrants.

Forty percent of Malmo’s 300,000 residents are first or second-generation immigrants.

“There is a lot of fear. People are afraid to go out at night, in the morning and even during the day,” Bejzat Becirov, head of the Islamic center that runs Malmo’s mosque, said in an interview.

On Dec. 31, a shot was fired into an office inside the Islamic center’s building.

Police confirmed the shooting, but not yet any link to the serial gunman.

Before the serial shooter, a blood-soaked feud between crime clans with Balkan roots dominated the headlines. A well-known member of one clan was murdered at a gas station. A top member of the opposing clan was then gunned down in downtown Malmo. Other shootings have been linked to the feud, which is still running.

With all that going on, the first attack later attributed to the serial shooter appeared related to Malmo’s gangland violence.

On Oct. 10 last year, a 21-year-old convicted drug smuggler on furlough from prison was shot in the head in a parked car. He was hospitalized for a month with a bullet lodged in his brain but survived, Swedish media reported. A 20-year-old woman sitting next him was hit in the head and died.

Police say the weapon in that shooting was the same as the one used in other attacks linked to the mysterious gunman.

Naser Yazdanpanah, a 57-year-old tailor from Iran, believes he confronted the gunman on Oct. 23 after a shot was fired at his shop when he was ironing trousers. He says he rushed out to the street and tried to stop the shooter.

Malmo has historically been a blue-collar city whose identity was closely tied to a bustling shipyard that built freighters and submarines. The shipyard closed in the 1990s.

Few regretted the loss. The city aspired to be at the forefront of Sweden’s evolution from manufacturing to a service economy steeped in IT, banking and fashion design.

Today, the former industrial harbor houses a university with 25,000 students and modern apartment complexes.

Residents take pride in the transformation and a sense of exuberance has infused the city since a road-and-rail link to the Danish capital, Copenhagen, was completed in 2000.

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