Gang wars rage in Denmark
Police presence beefed up as gang-related violence flares again.
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2009 15:26 GMT

Danish police say the gang wars are about crime, not race

First we heard the loud bang of the metal doors being forced.  We jumped out of the car to see dozens of police officers running into the building beside us, many wearing helmets and bullet proof vests.

Mounting the stairs two at a time, they used their small but powerful battering ram to hammer open the door while a handful of others smashed the windows and squeezed through the gaps. 

As they pushed into the building, there was loud yelling. The police were determined to show who was in command.

In video

Gang violence has become a major problem

We had come to an industrial estate on the edge of Copenhagen to meet some of the members of Denmark's Hell's Angels motorcycle club. 

This was their clubhouse.  We'd originally been told to meet at 11.30am, but the time was moved to 1pm and suddenly we were caught up in the latest public clampdown in Denmark's gang wars.

This is thought to be one of Europe's most peaceful places. But in the 1990s, it was the centre of a bloody gang war, where rival biker gangs across Scandinavia fought for what they believed was "pride and honour".

It left eleven dead and 96 injured and ended when the leaders of the two biker gangs, the Hell's Angels and the Bandidos, shook hands on Danish television.

Gang problems

But over the past few months, gang violence has become a major problem again.

Since the summer there have been more than 30 gang related shootings in Copenhagen alone, with more across the rest of the country. 

A low level war is being fought between the bikers and immigrant gangs. Some say it was sparked by the death of a young Turkish man four months ago, others insist the roots are deeper than that.

Denmark has put 140 more officers on the street to tackle the gang wars

Inside the club, the 20 or so people held by the police have their arms tied behind their backs and are forced to the floor. 

They're thoroughly searched, as is every corner of the club.

Police edge their way along the roof, checking gutters, one even removed the plastic sign pronouncing this place as the home of the Hell's Angels.

Dogs are called in. They're looking for drugs and guns. 

After two hours – the police leave. They've found nothing.

As we film them leaving, a large man appears by my side. Jorn Jonke Nielson is an Angel's legend. One of the group's founders in Denmark, he's served 16 years in prison for killing the leader of a rival motor cycle gang.

He shakes my hand, apologises that lunch will be late and invites me into the clubhouse.

We're taken upstairs to a large room with a big-screen TV, a modern kitchen and a table where we'll eat. 

Beside him is the leadership of the group, the people who are allowed to face the cameras. We're told there will be no interviews but we can report what is said.

I ask if he's involved in a war. 

He tells me: "We're not fighting a war, we, like all Danish people are involved in a cultural conflict with people who are not well integrated with out society."

He points to two members to his left, one born in Iran and the other in Pakistan. 

"We are not racist, we want people who are here to accept the Danish way of life."

Defending neighbourhoods

Across the city is the area of Norberro. It's regarded as one of the toughest areas in Copenhagen - home to a large number of immigrants and to the Bloggos gang. 

As soon we drive into the area at night, we notice people on the streets keeping watch. The police are here, too, in force, stopping and searching any groups of young men, anyone they think is suspicious.

As we park, we're surrounded by people who want to know what we're doing. I ask why people are so nervous.

"We are protecting our area man. The rockers [Hell's Angels] have come here and shot up our place and hurt innocent people. We're not going to let that happen," someone says.

No one admits to being in the gang, but almost everyone knows someone who is. And under their heavy coats, protecting them from the bitter night air, I catch a glimpse of at least two people wearing bullet proof vests. 

I'm guided to a man older than the rest and in Arabic he tells me the shootings are causing tension, and he believes that the police are unfairly targeting the area because it's full of immigrants.

Kim Kilver is the man who has essentially been put in charge of heading the Danish National Police force's investigations into the gang war. 

He rejects the idea that this is about race. 

"This is about control of the drugs market, of prostitution, of people smuggling. It isn't racist, it's criminal," he says.

The Danish politicians have reacted to concern on the street by pumping more money into the police force and funding an extra 140 officers on the street. 

It may make the gangs go away for awhile but it won't make them disappear.

Al Jazeera
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Nearly half of Canadians have suffered inappropriate advances on the job - and the political arena is no exception.
Women's rights activists are demanding change after Hanna Lalango, 16, was gang-raped on a bus and left for dead.
Buried in Sweden's northern forest, Sorsele has welcomed many unaccompanied kids who help stabilise a town exodus.
A look at the changing face of North Korea, three years after the death of 'Dear Leader'.
While some fear a Muslim backlash after café killings, solidarity instead appears to be the order of the day.
Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues.