On Turkey, Sweden balances NATO aspirations against fighting crime at home

On Turkey, Sweden balances NATO aspirations against fighting crime at home
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 11 April 2023 05:20

Sweden wants to get at a suspected drug lord linked with gang violence in Stockholm — but he appears to be hiding out in Turkey.

STOCKHOLM — Last month, a bomb destroyed the front of a house at the edge of the Swedish capital Stockholm, injuring one and terrifying scores of others.

At the scene of the bombing, hours after it had occurred, dazed-looking residents collected bits of wood and tile that had flown across nearby pathways and a children’s playground.

“I can still smell gunpowder and I’m still finding glass splinters in my hair,” a 17-year-old resident of a house near the targeted home told reporters.

“It feels like a nightmare,” she said. “I still feel like I am going to wake up in my bed like normal.”

Over recent weeks, tit-for-tat attacks on homes in Stockholm with links to gang members have intensified, and the bombing in March is thought to have been an attack on family members associated with a suspected drug lord.

But the alleged narcotics kingpin won’t be answering questions from the Swedish police any time soon for one simple reason: He’s in Turkey.

The case of Rawa Majid, known among associates as “the Kurdish fox,” represents a striking role reversal for Sweden and Turkey.

For the Swedish government, relations with Turkey are a political high-wire act, pitting its highest-priority foreign policy issue — NATO membership — against its highest domestic priority: tackling violent crime.

After securing himself a Turkish passport under an investment-for-citizenship scheme offered by the Turkish government, 36-year-old Majid, who was raised in Sweden, is for now out of reach of Swedish justice.

“An extradition of Rawa Majid from Turkey has been requested,” public prosecutor Henrik Söderman said in emailed answers to questions from POLITICO. “Turkish authorities have said that the extradition is not possible because Rawa Majid is a Turkish citizen.”

Who is the Kurdish fox?

According to a report by Swedish national radio, Majid was born in Iran but moved to Uppsala, about 70 kilometers north of Stockholm, as a child.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison in Sweden in 2010 for drug offenses, reported to include the handling of cocaine imported from the Netherlands. Soon after his release, due to apparent death threats, he moved to Iraq and then Turkey.

While NATO membership is Swedish government’s highest foreign policy issue, domestically it’s tackling violent crime | Christine Olsson/AFP via Getty Images

Experts suggest that a series of convictions of underworld leaders in Sweden — based on the cracking of encrypted communications — opened up an opportunity for Majid to claim more turf on the drug market.

The Kurdish fox’s alleged criminal network is arguably the highest profile of numerous groupings Swedish police say they are investigating. Others include a rival gang called the Dala network, based in southern Stockholm and believed to be run by an underworld figure called the Greek.

Majid remained largely out of the public gaze until early last year, when what is believed to be a clash between his gang and rivals began to escalate in Stockholm.

A trial connected to one violent incident — the murder of a man in southern Stockholm in March last year — was set to start last week, according to the court’s schedule.

A statement from state prosecutors ahead of that trial said the four men and one woman being charged have links to a group referred to by police as Foxtrot, which Majid is alleged to lead.

The statement also noted that Majid is suspected of preparation to commit murder.

Majid has made few public statements and it is unclear if he has a lawyer in Sweden. In a recent telephone conversation with Swedish television reporter Diamant Salihu, Majid denied all accusations against him.

‘Terrorist’ bargaining chip

For months now, Turkey has been blocking Sweden’s NATO entry — sought after Russia launched its full-scale war in Ukraine — claiming Sweden is harboring wanted criminals.

Over past decades, Sweden has sought to play the role of defender of human rights and free speech in Europe.

It has at various stages — such as following a crackdown on dissidents in the wake of an alleged coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 — offered asylum to opponents of the Turkish state fleeing what they have described as persecution on political grounds (claims often supported by human rights groups).

The government in Ankara, however, suggests that the scores of Turkish journalists and activists who have sought refuge in the Nordic state over recent years are in fact terrorists and coup plotters intent on toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Swedish courts have been working through Turkey’s deportation requests in line with an agreement struck at a NATO summit in Madrid last summer between Sweden, Turkey and Sweden’s Nordic neighbor Finland.

“Sweden has opened its arms to terrorists, this is not the case with Finland,” Erdogan said | Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images

So far, Swedish authorities have ruled that one man, Mahmut Tat, should be deported, while others targeted for extradition by Turkey have been granted the right to remain in Sweden under local asylum laws. Tat had sought asylum in Sweden after being convicted in Turkey of associating with the PKK, which the EU has designated as a terrorist organization.

Just last week, Finland saw success with its NATO bid after Turkey finally backed Finland — but it continues to block Sweden.

“Sweden has opened its arms to terrorists, this is not the case with Finland,” Erdogan said in mid-March by way of explaining his government’s differing position on the two countries’ NATO bids.

Beyond Sweden’s greater willingness to accept asylum-seekers from Turkey, Ankara has also expressed outrage at a recent protest in Stockholm which saw the burning of a Quran.

Amid the spike in gun deaths in Stockholm, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s government is under pressure to show progress in its investigations into the likes of Majid.

But the Swedish government knows that pushing Turkey too hard might damage its chances of entry into NATO.

The Turkish embassy in Stockholm did not respond to emailed questions about the Majid case.

Sweden’s Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer declined a request for interview. But Ashraf Ahmed, an official with the ministry’s unit for criminal cases and international judicial cooperation, sought to play down any tensions.

“Sweden and Turkey have a well-functioning legal cooperation,” he told POLITICO.

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