HELSINKI -- A powerful explosion rocked a Swedish apartment building early Tuesday in Goteborg, injuring up to 20 people, setting off multiple fires and forcing the evacuation of hundreds. Police said they suspect the blast may have been caused by an explosive device.
The explosion took place just before 5 a.m. in the Annedal district in central Goteborg, Sweden's second-largest city. Fires spread to several apartments, and fire department crews were still working to extinguish the flames mid-morning.
Jon Pile, operations manager at the greater Goteborg rescue service, said the blast prompted some people to jump out of their windows to escape.
Police spokesman Thomas Fuxborg said the cause of the explosion was not yet known, but he told Swedish broadcaster TV4 that investigators think foul play might have been involved. They are looking into whether any tenants might have been targeted, he said.
“We suspect that someone might have placed something that has exploded,” Fuxborg said.
Sahlgrenska University Hospital spokeswoman Ingrid Frederiksson said 16 people were taken to Goteborg’s main hospital. Four people — three older women and a man in his 50s — were being treated for serious injuries, she said. Some with lesser injuries were treated on the scene.
Building resident Lars Hulten told the daily newspaper Goteborg Tidning that the sound of the explosion woke him up.
“It was probably the loudest thing I heard. The whole apartment vibrated. The bed vibrated,” he said.
Hulten said he saw desperate people who “hung from balconies, climbing over balconies. There was one who fell. It was very dramatic and a very fast course of fire and smoke.”
Another witness, Lars-Gunnar Wolmesjo, told Expressen newspaper that he, too, saw people on their balconies and “some climbed down, some jumped and some had to wait for the firefighters to pick them up with a ladder."
Pile told reporters it appeared the explosion took place in the building’s inner courtyard, which had its entry gate blown away.
The blast comes amid a rise in violence between organized criminal gangs in the Scandinavian nation.
On June 30, a police officer was shot and killed in Goteborg. A 17-year-old suspect has since been arrested. Earlier this year, the Swedish national council for crime prevention said Sweden was the only European country where fatal shootings have risen significantly since 2000, primarily because of violent gangs.
In 2019, a powerful explosion ripped through two adjacent apartment buildings in the southern Swedish city of Linkoping, injuring 25 people and damaging more than 100 apartments. Police believe a feud between opposing criminal gangs was behind the blast. No arrests have been made.
Swedish media immediately focused Tuesday on the possibility that the Goteborg blast could be related to feuding gangs but Prime Minister Stefan Lofven repeatedly declined to speculate on a motive.
“We do not want to speculate on what this is. It is too early to draw conclusions. We do not know what the motive is. We know nothing,” Lofven said.
“We all want to know more. We want to understand what happened and what was the cause of this explosion, but it’s clear that crime cannot be ruled out,” Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg added at the press conference with Lofven.
Jan M. Olsen contributed from Copenhagen, Denmark.