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Wave of arson attacks hit cars in Swedish cities

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Groups of youths in Sweden set fire to dozens of cars in the city of Gothenburg and surrounding towns, in what Prime Minister Stefan Lofven described as "extremely organized" attacks, reported Deutsche Welle (Germany).

Police said up to 100 cars were burned or damaged in Gothenburg, Sweden's second-biggest city, as well as in Trollhattan, an industrial area with high unemployment, and Falkenberg. A number of cars were also burned overnight in Stockholm.

Police did not say what might have motivated the "organized and prepared" attacks, only confirming that gangs of youths were involved without specifying numbers.

Witnesses told police the alleged offenders were dressed in dark clothing and hoodies.

'Society must react'
"It seems very organized, almost like a military operation," Lofven said in an interview on Swedish radio, but did not say who might have been behind the attacks.

"Society is always going to react strongly to this kind of thing," he said.

Lofven asked the perpetrators: "What the heck are you doing?" before going on to say that he was "really getting mad" and "society must react in a tough manner."

No injuries were reported and no one has been arrested, the Swedish Aftonbladet newspaper reported.

Violence fuels election campaigns
Public concern over gang-related and other violence has become a key issue in political campaigns ahead of Sweden's national election on September 9.

A surge in gang violence in Sweden saw more than 40 people shot dead last year.

The concerns could benefit the country's populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats in particular, giving them the potential to become the second-biggest party in the parliament.

In addition to escalated violence, voters are worried about a struggling welfare system, declining school results and the effects of immigration, which saw around 160,000 people seek asylum in Sweden in 2015.

The police killing of a 69-year-old man who wielded a machete in a suburb of Stockholm, prompted accusations of police brutality in 2013 and saw rioting by hundreds of youths in the capital.

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Gothenburg police and fire services were alerted to the first blaze after 9pm, after which several more calls came in from the city as well as Trollhättan, Lysekil and Falkenberg some 100 kilometres away, reported The Local (Sweden).

"We have been to around 20 places in Gothenburg. It's mainly vehicles that have burned – cars, some truck, caravans – but also some buried waste disposal site," Johan Eklund, emergency control room officer in the greater Gothenburg area, told Swedish news agency TT shortly after midnight.

Swedish media reported that groups of up to ten youths had been seen throwing stones and lighting cars on fire in Gothenburg districts Gårdsten, Hjällbo and Frölunda, among other locations.

Videos sent to The Local showed masked people dressed in black torching cars.

One witness, who asked to be named only as Robert, told The Local he had seen a group of half a dozen people torch cars in the car park outside his home in Frölunda. His wife called the emergency services.

"We were very surprised. This area is usually very calm. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Six months ago it happened on the other side of the square. We've been living here for eight years," he said.

"They acted like a team, absolutely. It was organized. They know exactly what they were going to do."

In Trollhättan, 70 kilometres north of Gothenburg, a larger group of people was reportedly involved, wrote TT. Six cars burned in the town and youths were reported throwing stones at police.

"We know from experience that these kinds of fires more often happen the week before schools start than other weeks," police spokesperson Ulla Brehm told TT.

Gothenburg police said they believed the attacks had been coordinated on social media, but added that they were still investigating and were not yet able to confirm that that was the case.

In total around 80 cars were set on fire across the region, said Gothenburg police.

Police said they had managed to identify several people believed to have been present at the scene of some of the fires. They said two people, residents of Frölunda and aged 16 and 21, were being held in connection with the fires. They were later formally arrested on suspicion of aggravated arson.

Car burnings were also reported to a smaller extent in Malmö and Helsingborg. Southern police spokesperson Fredrik Bratt told TT it was "not completely out of the ordinary" and added he did not believe they were linked to the Gothenburg fires, but said they were monitoring the situation.

Around a dozen cars also burned in Stockholm, Uppsala and Åkersberga, wrote the Expressen tabloid. There were no other reports of riots or violence in those areas, it added.

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