When the leaders of the Hells Angels and Bandidos declared a truce on Danish TV in 1997, the residents of Copenhagen breathed a sigh of relief. The handshake ended a Scandinavian biker war that had turned the city’s ordinarily placid streets into a battlefield, and left 12 people dead. But just over a decade later, rival gangs are once again settling grievances with bullets. Since last summer, an apparent turf war between the Hells Angels and immigrant gangs has been blamed for 60 shootings in the capital, a situation Justice Minister Brian Mikkelsen called “untenable and unacceptable.”
While Danish officials say the battle is over Copenhagen’s lucrative marijuana trade, others point to the split along ethnic lines as evidence of racial undertones. Most of the violence has played out on the streets of the Norrebro district, which is largely made up of Turkish and Pakistani immigrants. According to a recent exchange on the Hells Angels website, the group “doesn’t want to wipe out anyone, [but] we are tired of the mentality that some immigrants have.”
Copenhagen has long had a reputation as a peaceful and tolerant city, but it’s clear that the gang problem is getting worse. Since 2008, when police counted a total of about 140 members, the numbers have risen to an estimated 1,500 individuals in biker and immigrant gangs. Putting more cops in the Norrebro and going after gang members for financial crimes hasn’t curbed the gunfire, which recently prompted the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office to warn visitors to “exercise extra caution” in the affected district.
Two weeks ago, three separate shootings left two dead and four injured. Meanwhile, a meals on wheels company has stopped deliveries in Norrebro, citing threats from gangs. Within days, the government introduced legislation that would double maximum sentences for gang-related crimes. Says Mikkelsen, “Bikers and immigrant gangs will not have a moment’s peace”—which, residents are hoping, will restore theirs.