World News

Reformed Gang Leader in Denmark Shot Dead Leaving Book Party

Posted November 21, 2018 1:07 p.m. EST

COPENHAGEN — In the eyes of his former associates, Nedim Yasar, once the leader of a notorious Danish gang, did something much worse than just leave the criminal life: He talked about it, becoming a nationally recognized expert on gang violence.

Yasir was fatally shot Monday night at what should have been a high point in his reformed life — he had just left a party in Copenhagen celebrating the release of a book about him, written with his cooperation. His death was big news in Denmark, lamented on the front pages of many newspapers.

“He was killed for what he said, not just because he left a brotherhood,” said Aydin Soei, an author and sociologist who interviews and writes about gang members. “The code is to leave the gang and shut up about it, but he went the other way. He stood up with his story, burning to break the chain feeding the gangs new members and to encourage others by saying there is an alternative to the gangs.”

Police in Copenhagen said they did not have any suspects and appealed for witnesses. In a statement, investigators said they were aware of an attempt on Yasar’s life at his home last year, but they had not been aware of any recent threats.

Yasar had founded a gang, Los Guerreros, that became involved in drug trafficking, and he spent time in jail for violence, robbery, blackmail and unlawful imprisonment. Five years ago, he entered a state-run exit program for gang members, then became a radio host and a respected voice in Denmark’s debate about gang violence.

On Tuesday came the release of “Rodder: A Gangster’s Way Out,” written by a journalist, Marie Louise Toksvig. The Danish word “rodder” is used to mean both “roots” and “troublemakers.”

In an interview Sunday, Yasar, who was born in Turkey and had lived in Denmark since the age of 4, said his decision to leave the gang took shape when he learned he was having a son.

“I was afraid he would look at me like I saw my father, so I had to choose: Do you want a son growing up looking at you thinking you’re cool and then join the gangs and do crime to get your recognition?” he told TV2. “Or do you want to leave the environment so your son can see you in a different way and respect you for the human being you are?”

Yasar was shot while getting into his car after a book reception at the offices of the Danish Red Cross youth branch, where he had been a mentor to troubled youths.

“He was inspiring, but never lecturing. It’s a big difference,” said Anders Folmer Buhelt, the organization’s director. “Nedim was very strong on values and very clear on what society he wanted to create. But he was also clear on who he used to be.”

Soei, the sociologist, said he could not think of a more important voice warning young men against entering the dangerous and paranoid lifestyle of a low-level gang member, which is far removed from the tales of fame and wealth told by gang recruiters.

Politicians including the prime minister and the minister of justice deplored the killing of Yasar and celebrated his contributions after he left the gang.

“This terrible tragedy raises the question if we as society offer the right protection to those people wishing to step out of the shadows and back into society,” Justice Minister Soren Pape Poulsen wrote on Twitter.

Jakob Kvist, publisher of “Rodder,” said: “My concern is that violence works, and this will deter others from coming forward and from seeking an exit from this environment. My concern is that the people he was fighting for who are living outside the state’s protection under alternative regimes in the ghettos will find it harder to get out.”

Gang violence in Denmark has never reached the levels seen in some other countries and rarely results in death, but it is one of the hottest topics on the political agenda, linked to arguments over how open the country should be to immigrants.

For decades, biker and immigrant-heavy gangs have fought on and off over control of illegal markets, internal conflicts and revenge. Attacks usually target members of rival gangs, but shots are sometimes fired in crowded areas, near innocent bystanders — a rare threat and source of concern in a generally peaceful country.

The most recent gang war, in 2017, lasted six months, leaving three people dead and 25 wounded. Little gang-related violence has been reported this year.