Denmark’s Violent Gang Wars

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A Hells Angels member from Russia is stopped by police near Copenhagen. A war between biker gangs and young immigrants has been raging since the summer in Denmark with fears the racist clashes might spread to other sectors of society.Photograph by: MOGENS FLINDT, GETTY IMAGES, AFP

Copenhagen, renowned for its fairy-tale palaces and Little Mermaid, has for more than a year been the scene of a full-blown gang war that the government admits it is powerless to end.

Daily police patrols, raids and harsher sentences for gang-related crimes have failed to quell the wave of drive-by shootings, execution-style killings, and grenade attacks that have rocked the Danish capital and its suburbs since 2008.

Although Denmark is no stranger to gang wars, after dealing with clashes between rival biker gangs Hells Angels and Bandidos in the 1990s, this upsurge of violence – pitting biker gangs against youths of immigrant origin – has spiralled out of the authorities’ control.

“I am asking everyone for help and good advice,” Justice Minister Brian Mikkelsen implored, taking directly to citizens his plea for ideas to bring a halt to the bloody conflict.

Copenhagen’s spiral of violence started in August 2008 when an armed man of Turkish origin was executed on the street, his body riddled with 25 bullets by a member of Hells Angels spinoff AK81.

At times played out in broad daylight, the conflict has claimed seven lives and wounded 60 people since then, some of the dead and wounded being innocent bystanders.

In October alone, nine attacks shook the ordinarily calm seaside capital, including its posh and residential areas.

Authorities say the conflict originally stemmed from the desire to control territory for the sale of both hard and soft drugs, but it is increasingly fuelled by vengeance, with each clan avenging its own losses. This war is much deadlier than the 1990s biker feuds, and Mikkelsen said it “can only be stopped by society.” More than 300 Danes have sent tips by email to Mikkelsen on how to stop the conflict, the minister said, while even the United States has offered help.

“We have some expertise in the area of gangs, and if we can offer some assistance or training that would be beneficial, we would be happy to do that,” U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told reporters after talks with Mikkelsen in Copenhagen.

The minister announced a series of meetings in which Denmark, a normally peaceful country of 5.5 million inhabitants, hopes to learn from the U.S. how to deal with urban violence.

So far, Mikkelsen’s hard-line anti-gang plan seems nowhere near putting an end to the bloodshed.

“We cannot control this absurd and infernal cycle of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” chief police inspector Per Larsen admitted.

It is a “miracle” that the conflict has not claimed more victims, he said, but insisted that police have not surrendered and that Copenhagen still “isn’t Chicago in the 1930s.” But a Gallup poll has suggested more than eight of 10 people in Denmark do not believe police will be able to stop the conflict, with many Danes – consistently ranked among the happiest people on Earth – fearing for their own safety.

“Those gangs should face off and kill each other once and for all so we can finally live in peace,” said Inger, a woman in her 70s.

A founding Hells Angels member was injured by two youths of immigrant origin in an attack in broad daylight in the suburb where she lives.

“The Hells will avenge the attack, and the spiral of violence will continue,” Yavuz Ilmaz, a 28-year-old Dane of Turkish descent, said of the incident.

Despite the authorities’ best intentions and promises, Ilmaz judged “insane” how easy it is to obtain illegal weapons in Copenhagen, and suggested stronger measures to stop the gang war.

“Putting cameras up everywhere like in London and legalizing hash like in the Netherlands” could halt the drug trade and the violence, giving Copenhagen a chance to return to calm, Ilmaz said.

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