Foxtrot and Rumba: Who are the violent Swedish gangs doing Iran’s bidding?

Rival groups are led by Rawa Majid, known as the Kurdish Fox, and his former associate Ismail Abdo

Foxtrot leader Rawa Majid, left, and Rumba boss Ismail Abdo. Photo: Swedish Police
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Two notorious Swedish criminal gangs have been named as the groups recruited by Iran to carry out attacks on Israeli and Iranian dissidents.

Foxtrot is led by Rawa Majid, known as the Kurdish Fox, while his former criminal associate, Ismail Abdo, leads the Rumba organisation. The rival gangs are wanted by the authorities in Sweden on suspicion of ordering killings in a brutal turf war for the country's drugs market.

Exposed by Mossad

The recruitment of criminal gangs by Iran was revealed by Sweden’s Sapo counter-intelligence service. Israel’s Mossad agency named Majid and Abdo, along with their criminal networks, as the groups used by Tehran.

Swedish politician Alireza Akhondi, who was born in Iran and is a vocal critic of the regime, said he believed the gangs were linked to Tehran through the drug smuggling activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Mr Akhondi, who is a Swedish MP for the Centre Party, told The National he was “not surprised” at the Iranian recruitment of the criminals.

“We know that the IRGC is controlling the narcotics groups inside Iran, so using criminals like Rawa Majid, who is wanted for massive drug dealing in Sweden, makes a lot of sense,” he said.

He said that, rather than the criminals being blackmailed into working with Iran, it was “100 per cent a collaboration”.

Mr Akhondi said the Iranian regime was determined to silence its critics and dissidents abroad and he feared he might be on a list of targets. “I’m quite sure my personal safety is compromised,” he said.

Iran's focus on targets abroad

Concern is growing that Tehran could be forging a new nexus of extremism and crime, as it did with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is suspected of being involved in criminal activity, including drugs.

Iran has become increasingly aggressive towards critics of the regime who live abroad, with employees of the Iran International TV channel in London warned of plots to kill them. A Chechen-born Austrian citizen was recruited by Iran to carry out reconnaissance in a failed plot to kill two presenters on the channel.

Eastern European criminals were reportedly hired by Iran to attack Pouria Zeraati, who was stabbed outside his home.

But the linking of Majid and Abdo to attacks on Israeli targets marks the first time the names of criminals and organisations recruited by Iran have been revealed.

Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies think tank in Washington, said Iran “has mounted all manner of outrages on European soil – and not recoiled at using the most unsavoury of executioners to do so”.

“The conjunction of crime and terror, witnessed in full bloom with Hezbollah in Lebanon, must not be allowed to continue to threaten the West,” he said.

How can it be stopped?

Sweden summoned an Iranian envoy on Friday after the intelligence service in Stockholm went public with the claim that Iran "is using criminal networks in Sweden to carry out acts of violence".

The Swedish connection could potentially give the EU a legal basis to list the IRGC as a terrorist group, if a link can be established, said Jason Brodsky of the United Against Nuclear Iran campaign group.

The EU has evaded demands to list the IRGC by saying it must first have been formally linked to terrorism by a European state, with lawyers also studying Iran’s involvement in an arson plot against a German synagogue.

A German court ruled last year that a fugitive Hell's Angel, who arranged the bungled arson plot, was acting on orders from "Iranian state agencies", in what judges called an "escalation" of the country's secret activities in Europe.

In the Swedish case, Mr Brodsky said “there are some questions we need answers to – who are the handlers for the criminal gangs in question in Tehran? Is it the Ministry of Intelligence? Or the IRGC?”

“Both entities are part of Iran’s security services and both conduct external operations. That answer is directly relevant of course to whether this case provides grounds for an EU terrorism sanction."

What is known about Majid and Abdo?

Majid, 37, was born in Iran but his family settled in the city Uppsala in Sweden, where he became involved in crime. He was convicted at age 19 of burglary and cigarette smuggling, before he moved on to drug dealing.

Majid was jailed for eight years after drugs were found in his garage by police, but he still managed to build up an extensive criminal network and has been a key player in the escalating gang violence in Sweden.

He left the country in 2018 for Turkey, where he was able to obtain citizenship as a result of investment in the country. Swedish authorities have called for him to be extradited.

He has been accused of directing the killing of a gang rival in Sweden last year. He was later arrested by Iranian police near the Turkish border.

Majid has been involved in a turf war with Abdo, who has also been living in Turkey, where he was arrested last week. One of his gang allegedly killed a member of Majid’s organisation in March in revenge for an attack carried out in a cafe in Istanbul, Turkish media reported.

Mr Akhondi described the criminals as “violent and ruthless" and said more should be done to help Sweden bring them to justice. “From the Swedish perspective, there is concern that gang leaders seem to have really comfortable lives in Turkey and Turkish security doesn’t seem to do anything about it,” he said.

The violence recently took a turn when gang members' families and loved ones also become targets.

Abdo’s mother was shot dead in Uppsala last year, a killing Majid is suspected of ordering in retaliation for one of his gang being attacked in Turkey. Majid’s mother-in-law survived an attempt to kill her.

Two teenage boys were detained for the killing of Abdo’s murder. The two criminals have used teenagers in attacks, including violence carried out on behalf of Iran.

Children recruited

Dozens of Iran-backed plots against Jewish and Israeli targets have been uncovered in recent months, with many involving local criminal networks, Mossad said.

Gunshots were recently reported near the Israeli embassy in Sweden and a 14-year-old boy was detained.

Criminologist Manne Gerell told The National that children were used by gangs because they could not be convicted by a court until they are 15, and would receive light sentences if they are under 18.

Recruitment sometimes takes place informally, as children progress from “hanging out” with criminals to being asked to carry out gang work, said Mr Gerell, an associate professor.

But “in recent years we’ve also seen recruitment taking place on social media” by the gangs, he said.

“They use mobile apps to ask for kids who want to get involved, who for instance want to take a contract to shoot someone or to bomb some place. Then it can be a really fast recruitment process, where kids go from being completely unknown to the police to shooting people in a matter of weeks or months.”

Updated: May 31, 2024, 1:47 PM