Sweden says Iran using local gangs to target Israel and other states

Even children are being used to carry out Iranian activities that threaten security in Sweden, intelligence officials say

The Israeli embassy in Stockholm. Sweden says it has noticed that Iran is increasingly beginning to attack the interests of other states within Swedish territory. AP
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The Iranian government is using criminal networks within Sweden to carry out violent acts against other states, groups and individuals, the Swedish intelligence service Sapo has said.

Intelligence officials said Iran had recently attacked the interests of other states in Sweden – specifically Israel – and also sought to act against Iranian dissident groups and individuals from the Iranian diaspora.

“The security service can now confirm that criminal networks in Sweden are proxies that Iran uses,” said Daniel Stenling, head of counter-intelligence at Sapo.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said his ministry had summoned Iran's charge d'affaires for talks on Friday “to express how seriously we view this information”.

“Sweden will not be a platform where state actors use criminal networks to promote their own interests,” he said.

The announcement came two weeks after night-time gunfire was reported outside Israel's embassy in Stockholm, and four months after police found a live grenade in the grounds of the Israeli compound.

Iran's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond.

“The Iranian regime is using criminal networks in Sweden to carry out acts of violence against other states, groups or people in Sweden that it considers a threat,” said Sapo.

It cited in particular “Israeli and Jewish interests, targets and operations in Sweden”.

Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Thursday cited documents from Israel's intelligence agency Mossad as saying that the head of the Swedish gang Foxtrot, Rawa Majid, and his arch-rival Ismail Abdo, head of the Rumba gang, had both been recruited by the Iranian regime.

DN said the Mossad documents showed that Majid – a Swedish-Turkish dual citizen nicknamed the “Kurdish Fox” – was recently arrested in Iran and ordered to co-operate with the Iranian regime or go to jail.

Swedish media meanwhile reported this week that Abdo, who also holds Turkish citizenship, was recently arrested in Turkey and was released shortly afterwards on bail, despite an international arrest warrant.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said at the time that Abdo's release was “frustrating”.

Asked whether the Swedish intelligence agency's information about Iran came solely from Mossad, Swedish Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said: “I feel very confident about the information our authorities have.”

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“Iran has previously used violence in other countries in Europe in a bid to silence critical voices and perceived threats against its regime,” said Sapo.

“Our assessment is that this is a regional conflict that has spread globally and now also includes Sweden as an arena for this conflict,” Mr Stenling said.

“Very young individuals, even children, can be used to carry out Iranian activities that threaten security in Sweden.”

Sapo said it was collaborating with the police, military and international allies “to meet the threat from Iran”.

The Scandinavian country has struggled to contain surging gang violence in recent years, with shootings and bombings now weekly occurrences.

The gang violence was originally linked to control over the drugs market, but was “changing shape very quickly”, the deputy head of the Swedish Police National Operations Division, Hampus Nygards, said.

The networks have increasingly recruited ever-younger youths and children eager to gain status and earn quick money, well aware they cannot be jailed if under the age of 15.

Swedish police increased security around Israeli and Jewish interests following the suspected shooting near Israel's embassy in Stockholm and the discovery of the grenade outside the same embassy in January.

Sapo declined to comment on specific attacks but according to a statement obtained by Reuters from an Israeli official, the January incident was carried out by a criminal gang on behalf of Iran.

Relations between Sweden and Iran have deteriorated since a Swedish court in July 2022 handed down a life sentence against a 63-year-old Iranian former prison official, Hamid Noury, for crimes committed during a 1988 purge of dissidents.

As Noury's trial got under way, Iran arrested Swedish EU diplomat Johan Floderus in April 2022, accusing him of spying for Israel, an offence that carries a potential death penalty.

Governments and human rights groups have accused Tehran of engaging in “hostage diplomacy”.

No date has been set for the verdict in Floderus's case.

The security service said the terrorism threat level assessment remained at four on a scale of five. It was raised to four in 2023, after Quran burnings by people in Sweden outraged Muslims in a number of countries and triggered threats.

Updated: May 31, 2024, 1:22 PM