COPENHAGEN — More than 60 years of hassle-free travel from Sweden to Denmark has ended after the Danish authorities, struggling to quell a wave of bombings blamed on Swedish gangs, introduced passport checks for the first time since the 1950s.
The measures put in place on Tuesday are temporary and will be applied intermittently, but the Danish police said that most travelers should carry passports or national identification cards. Only air travelers from Sweden will be exempted.
“To counter the threat from serious, cross-border crime, we are enforcing the protection of the border with Sweden,” the Danish minister of justice, Nick Haekkerup, said in a statement last month.
Sweden has had border checks on travelers from Denmark since 2016. But the Danish passport checks come as its neighbor has been rocked by more than 100 explosions in the first 10 months of this year. Officials have blamed the blasts — up from 39 at the same time last year — on criminal gangs. The explosions have spread to Denmark, where at least 13 have occurred in Copenhagen this year, although the police have not linked them all to Sweden.
In August, a bomb blew up the Danish tax authority in Copenhagen, causing substantial damage. No one was wounded, but two Swedes are in police custody on suspicion of carrying out the late-night attack.
No one has died this year in the wave of bombings in the two countries, but the situation is highly unusual, not only for Sweden and Denmark, but also in comparison with the rest of the Western world during peacetime, according to Amir Rostami, a criminologist.
“Unfortunately, we must look to war zones for something similar,” Mr. Rostami, an academic at Stockholm University, told Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish daily.
To cope with the rising number of explosions, the Swedish police have bolstered their bomb squad.
“During 2019, we’ve been at a level we’ve never seen before, and right now it’s constant,” the national bomb squad’s chief of operations, Jon Wahlander, told Swedish state television. “Almost every day, we’re responding to various incidents either of explosions or with relation to explosions.”
The Danish police say they are also concerned about other crimes linked to Sweden: They have charged a Swede in connection with the killing of two other Swedes near Copenhagen in June.
Last month, the police in Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city, charged a 28-year-old man with gang ties in connection with two explosions in December 2018, the news site svt.se reported. Two other men where also charged in other explosions. One of them, an 18-year-old, apparently fell victim to his own device when it went off in his Malmo home, leaving him with life-threatening injuries.
Some of the explosions were caused by grenades made for military purposes and smuggled in to supply gangs that have become more and more at ease with using extreme violence to reach their goals, experts said. Other devices are homemade, using everyday items such as thermos flasks, but strike with cruel precision.
In September, a 23-year-old woman in Lund, a university town in southern Sweden, suffered severe injuries to her face after a bomb went off in front of a shop as she was passing.
Denmark and Sweden scrapped passport checks in 1958 to allow seamless passage between the two Scandinavian kingdoms. (Both countries are part of the visa-free Schengen zone, made up of 26 European countries that allow free and unrestricted movement of people.)
The Scandinavian countries have similar political systems and related languages, and share a sometimes war-torn past. As well as a bridge, Denmark and Sweden are also joined by four ferry routes. Those connections will be subjected to the new border checks.
“We’re targeting organized crime, and it’s the aim that the border control’s effect on ordinary travelers is as minimal as possible,” the Danish national police director, Lene Frank, said in a statement.
Experts argue that intermittent checks are unlikely to either stop criminals or deter them from entering Denmark, since the risk of being caught among the tens of thousands of law-abiding travelers every day is minimal.
In response to the criticism, the Danish government pointed to a package of measures making its way through Parliament. They include allowing more CCTV in public places, increasing the monitoring of known criminals and heavier punishment for the illegal use and possession of explosives.
Denmark has introduced temporary border controls before. In January 2016, checks were put in place at the border with Germany to deter undocumented migrants from exploiting travel across the Schengen Area. At the same time and for the same reason, Sweden introduced its border checks on travelers from Denmark. Both are still in place.
Asylum seekers are required, under European Union law, to seek asylum in the first country in the bloc that they enter, but many try to leave the Mediterranean nations where they arrive from Turkey and North Africa and travel north in search of relatives or countries with more advanced asylum and integration systems.
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