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How police brought down the most dangerous gang on the Costa del Sol

The authorities have arrested the alleged hitmen known as “the Swedes,” thought to be behind at least two of the most recent killings in Málaga, southern Spain

Photo: Police investigate in Marbella. Video: Footage of arrests and the locations involved (Spanish narration). JOSÉ SÁNCHEZ / ATLAS

The members of what police have described as the most violent gang ever seen in southern Spain have been arrested, allegedly leaving behind them a trail of ruthless crimes.

The group – North African in origin, but from Malmö in Sweden, hence their nickname of los suecos – is thought to have carried out point-blank shootings in the middle of the street from bicycles, motorbikes or cars, while wearing hoods.

Their victims have been gunned down leaving their homes or just after attending a First Communion church service. They are a group of nine people, led by two pairs of brothers – none of them older than 30. Thought to be planning on setting up an operational hub in Málaga, they were being sought by the Spanish and Swedish authorities, who have tied them to as many as 10 murders in that country.

The Costa del Sol is not, nor will it be, an easy place for criminals to take root

National Police officers

But the police dealt them a deadly blow last week. “It needs to be made clear that the Costa del Sol is not, nor will it be, an easy place for criminals to take root,” explain officers from the organized crime squad of the National Police (UDYCO), which blames this gang for at least two of the six killings that have been carried out recently in this area of southern Spain, which is a strategic location for organized crime chiefs.

On May 12, a man dressed in black and riding a black 500cc motorbike without a license plate stuck a pistol through the window of the car being driven by David Ávila Ramos, known as “Maradona” in the Marbella drug underworld, and fired off five shots. The killing took place as the victim was leaving his son’s First Communion ceremony, just opposite the San Pedro de Alcántara church, in a scene that could have been lifted straight out of a mafia movie. Ramos was 37 years old, and had dedicated his life to cocaine trafficking. He also had pending debts and had received a number of warnings.

“In May they burned down his gym, in the same municipality, by crashing a stolen car full of gasoline into the building, and days later they did the same with the Heaven nightspot, which he joint-owned with his partner on a beach in Estepona,” officers explain. At the time of his death, Maradona had his two young children and his wife in the car. The latter maintained the law of silence that reigns over the business.

At the time of his shooting, the drug dealer known as “Maradona” had his children and wife in the car with him

The genesis of what came to be known as Operation Rueda, an operation carried out in close conjunction between the Spanish and Swedish police, began with an investigation into the theft of the all-terrain vehicle that was crashed into the gym. The work of more than 30 officers led the police to the hideouts of what they described as the “worst gang of hitmen that the Costa del Sol has ever seen.”

The investigation led them to solve a second murder: that of Sofian Mohamed A. B., another well-known drug trafficker known as “El Zocato.” He was shot nine times – an entire magazine of bullets – on the doorstep of his house. The shooting was carried out by “a hooded man on a bike,” a mode of transport that, along with the black motorcycle with no license plate, was located in one of the five properties that the group of killers was renting in a number of luxury developments in the area.

“They slept in a different house nearly every day, and took a lot of security precautions, as well as traveling to Malmö and Morocco a lot,” investigators explain. Of the nine men arrested, five were captured in Málaga – three are already in jail – and four in Sweden, where they are known by the police, according to Swedish police chief Petra Stenkula, who explains that there are as many as 10 organizations of this kind currently operating in the aforementioned city.

In total, seven of the nine suspects have been jailed, and are facing charges of murder, criminal association and document fraud. A Marbella court is heading the Spanish side of the investigation.

They slept in a different house nearly every day, and took a lot of security precautions

Police investigators

As an example of the hardened criminals that make up this gang, the officers recall that, on one occasion, a member was targeted supposedly by a rival gang in a cafeteria in Malmö. The hitman got away despite getting shot in the leg, but a couple next to him that was having coffee died in the shootout. “Fortunately, here in Spain no one innocent has been affected, no one that wasn’t already involved in the drug world,” explains one of the investigators. “They only settle scores like this when they’re dealing cocaine,” explain investigators, who suspect that organizations of Spaniards and Colombians are behind the ordering of these killings, albeit without having managed to get close to them in ongoing investigations.

During the operation against the gang there have been a total of nine searches carried out at properties in Málaga and Malmö, which have turned up a bulletproof vest, a holster, a Taser, computers, pepper sprays, 11 cellphones, €4,165 in cash, clothing worn during the incidents being investigated and three expensive watches, one of which was made with diamond-encrusted gold and has been valued at nearly €250,000.

English version by Simon Hunter.