More than a dozen cars were torched and schools, shops and a police station were set ablaze as riots swept through Stockholm’s immigrant-dominated suburbs for the fifth straight night, police and firefighters said on Friday.
Police plan to call in reinforcements to help quell the riots, but parents and volunteer organisations that have patrolled the streets in recent nights have helped decrease their intensity, police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said.
The riots have shattered Sweden’s image abroad as a peaceful and egalitarian nation, and sparked a domestic debate about the assimilation of immigrants, who make up about 15 per cent of the population.
Firefighters were dispatched to 70 different locations in greater Stockholm overnight, extinguishing torched cars, dumpsters and buildings, including three schools, the fire department wrote on Twitter.
That was calmer than the previous night, when they handled 90 incidents.
Lindgren said 13 people had been arrested, between the ages of 17 and 26, but no injuries were reported.
One of the rioters in the suburb of Husby told Swedish Radio that racism was rampant where he lived, and that violence was his only way of being noticed.
“We burned cars, threw rocks at police, at police cars. But it’s good, because now people know what Husby is ... This is the only way to be heard,” said the rioter, identified only by the pseudonym Kim.
In Rinkeby, one of the city’s immigrant-dominated areas, six cars parked alongside each other were torched, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.
A police station and several shops in Aelvsjoe were set on fire, but the flames were quickly extinguished.
Firefighters said a fire set at a school in another immigrant-heavy suburb, Tensta, was quickly extinguished, as was another at a nursery school in the Kista suburb.
And police in Soedertaelje, a town south of Stockholm, said rioters threw stones at them as they responded to reports of cars set alight.
Flames from another burning vehicle in the suburb of Jordbro spread to a shopping centre, which suffered significant damage before the fire could be put out.
Twenty to 30 cars have so far been reported torched at each of the big insurance companies If, Folksam and Trygg-Hansa, according to Swedish Radio, quoting an If executive as saying her company would end up paying “millions” of kronor.
Eric Zemmour, a right-wing French commentator known for his controversial views, said the riots showed that the Swedish “kingdom of social democracy and of political correctness” was little different from countries like Britain and France.
“These are the same suburbs, the same traffic, the same angst, senseless aggression, the same hatred of the host country, the same way of isolating oneself in counter-societies ruled by the religious prescriptions of Islam, the same riots,” he told RTL radio.
Many of the immigrants who have arrived under Sweden’s generous refugee policy struggle to learn the language and find employment, despite numerous government programmes.
The troubles, which began Sunday in the Husby, are believed to have been triggered by the fatal police shooting of a 69-year-old Husby resident last week after the man wielded a machete in public.
Local activists said the shooting sparked anger among youths who claim to have suffered from police brutality and racism.
Stockholm county police chief Mats Loefving said on Friday the rioters were local youths with and without criminal records.
In addition, “in the midst of all this there is a small group of professional criminals, who are taking advantage of the situation to commit crimes like this,” he told Swedish Radio.
Official data shows unemployment was 8.8 per cent in Husby last year, compared to 3.3 per cent in Stockholm as a whole.
A 25-year-old who grew in Husby said he didn’t think the riots had anything to do with the shooting.
“I’m not saying there are no problems ... but people are glorifying this a little bit,” said the man, who declined to be named, adding that the rioters were often youngsters aged 12 to 17.
“I can imagine they get a big kick out of seeing themselves on TV,” he said.
Due to its liberal immigration policy, Sweden has in recent decades become one of Europe’s top destinations for immigrants, both in absolute numbers and relative to its size.
In the past decade it has welcomed hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and the Balkans, among others.