Denmark’s gang war

Many fear that gang violence is fuelling anti-immigrant sentiment.

A bloody gang war between bikers and youths of immigrant origin has shattered Copenhagen’s customary calm, prompting officials into threatening draconian legislation.

The latest street violence was sparked in August 2008 when a young Turkish man was killed, supposedly by a member of the Hells Angels group.

Since then, the conflict has left dozens dead or wounded – some innocent bystanders.

In Depth


 Copenhagen’s ‘racial’ gang wars
 Denmark’s forgotten asylum seekers
 Denmark party targets Muslims
 Europe’s waning liberalism

For Kim Kliver, the head of the National Investigation Centre in Copenhagen, the gang war is criminal, not racial, in its origin.

“Basically it is the control of the criminal markets, that means the narcotics markets, that means the trafficking of human beings into prostitution and the money they can earn on these criminal activities,” Kliver says.

But, not everyone agrees that the violence is part of a turf war over organised crime. Some see race and the so-called ‘integration problem’ as the chief cause.

Khaled Ramadan, an academic, artist and journalist, says that second and third generation immigrants are feeling frustrated by the Danish establishment.

“… The establishment has a problem. The media is basically booming the problem and the street is already in trouble and frustration. Frustration [leads to] revolution. It [leads to] crime. It [leads to] antagonism.”


There are concerns that the long-simmering feud will fuel existing anti-immigrant sentiment in a country where limiting immigration has become a cornerstone of government policy.

Immigrants account for about eight per cent of Denmark’s 5.5 million people. Of these, there are an estimated 270,000 Muslims.

Many arrived in the 1970s from Turkey, Pakistan and Morocco to work in Denmark. In the 1980s and 1990s the majority of Muslim arrivals were refugees and asylum seekers from Lebanon, Bosnia, Iraq and Somalia.

Following the 9/11 attacks and the Madrid and London bombings, many immigrants feel that Islamophobia and racism is on the rise across Europe.

The mood in Denmark seems to have taken a turn to the right. Neo-Nazi groups have emerged with new slogans, such as “Denmark for Danes” and “close the borders”, and many immigrants say they no longer feel welcome in Denmark.

“I don’t think that the Danes as such are racists. But I think that they are afraid of what is going to happen with our society. It is about you are either with us or against us. I think that Bush rhetoric has been very sort of contagious also into Danish politics,” Magrethe Vestager, the leader of Denmark’s Social Liberal Party, says.

Denmark’s relationship with the Muslim world worsened when in 2005 a Danish newspaper published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The sense of outrage persists and in January this year a Somali man was charged with the attempted murder of the cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard.

Getting tough

The mood in Denmark seems to have taken a turn to the right

The government claims that race is not an issue in the gang violence. Officials are, nevertheless, seeking to get tough – threatening to pass new laws that would make it easier to deport immigrants involved in gang-related crime.

“We have to come down hard on the obtuseness and brutality of the gang environment. If you are a criminal with a foreign background then there is only one way. That is out of Denmark and back to the country where you came from,” says Brian Mikkelsen, Denmark’s former minister of justice.

“I think these measures will have an effect on the gang members. It will make them think twice.”

Community leaders and opposition parties have warned that the gang wars, and draconian government measures, will only inflame feelings of alienation and marginalisation among ethnic minority youth.

“I am very worried about what is going on at the moment, because what we see is that the gangs have the possibilities to recruit from the street. I think it is very important that Denmark sort of reconsiders and uses some of the ways we know will work…instead of closing our eyes. And not just talk about how aggressive we can be to the very aggressive gangs,” Vestager says.

Others are worried that the global economic downturn could further increase polarisation and radicalisation.

Ramadan says: “Radicalism usually comes out of [an] economic crisis or [a] social political crisis. And in the 1930s we have seen that the formation of Nazism was very much related to economy. The history of Europe shows that it does not tolerate minorities when it is poor. And we are now in a serious economical situation. It is scary.”

Denmark’s gang war can be seen from Monday, December 27, 2010 at the following times GMT: Monday: 0130, 1230; Tuesday: 0630; Wednesday: 0830, 1930; Thursday: 0330, 1400; Friday: 0730; Saturday: 1900; Sunday: 0030.