STOCKHOLM — A young man, clad in a leather jacket, his long hair streaming in the wind, stepped out of his car as police quickly began searching his trunk for weapons. Overhead, machine-gun-toting officers looked down from nearby rooftops as a police helicopter whirred by.
Within moments the man's face was recorded on video camera as a possible "person of interest."
Hundreds of Stockholm police were taking no chances late last week and over the weekend as the Motorcycle Club of Sweden's induction into the Oakland, Calif.-based Hell's Angels brought 200 motorcycle gang members from across Scandinavia, Britain, Canada, and the United States.
Unlike their counterparts in the US, where Hell's Angels gangs stage charitable events and offer club memorabilia on the Internet, the gangs in the Nordic countries have a more violent streak, lobbing antitank grenades, detonating car bombs, and conducting shootouts in airports as they jockey for turf against one another.
When the Houston-based Bandidos twice fired antitank missiles at their Hell's Angels rivals in Hasslarp, Sweden, last year, police say they stole their weapons from a Swedish military depot. "We don't call them bikers," says Claes Cassel, a spokesman for Stockholm County Police. "We call them criminal gangs. As far as Scandinavia goes, we believe the bikes are only a camouflage."
Concerned that the large crowd of Hell's Angels would also draw the rival Bandidos into town and lead to violence, businesses in Bromma, the industrial section of town, closed late last week. Police sealed off the area to interview drivers and search cars. Meanwhile, bikers, clad in leather jackets bearing their country's patches, roamed the sidewalks, checked into Stockholm's swankiest hotels, and rented buses to transport members around town.
Police from all over Europe came to Stockholm to keep a watchful eye. "All of the countries have sent their experts to us," Mr. Cassel says. "There are Finnish, Danish, Norwegian police helping us, and we do the same for them."
The outlaw gangs began cropping up in Sweden in 1993, with the first club in Malm. Since then, the numbers have grown as Hell's Angels and the Bandidos vie for control of the drug trade. Some estimate that there may be as many as 1,000 outlaw bikers in Scandinavia, with the largest concentration in Denmark. "We know they are very big in drug trafficking," Cassel says. "We fear that with the Stockholm gang entering Hell's Angels, they will also be part of this international criminal organization. It's a very strong hierarchy. They can be ordered to commit crimes in this country."
Add to the drug trade an old-fashioned machismo, and competition among gangs for honor, and you have a potent criminal combination. "They hate each other for the simple reason they're competing with each other," says Jan Trost, a sociologist who has followed the gangs' activities.
Scandinavia is cracking down. Legislative and police efforts aimed at combating illegal gang activities have increased over the past few years. But gang members do not appear to be concerned. Hell's Angels spokesman Thomas Meller told Swedish media that it wants to establish as many clubs as it possibly can.
Swedish residents, meanwhile, are looking askance as an overwhelming police presence fills the normally placid Stockholm streets like sheriffs of the American Wild West.
"It's not common to see here," says Aktivi Konidari, a nearby resident. "It's an American import."