On a night in September, as summer was turning to autumn, Soha Saad dozed off on the sofa as she stayed up late studying. The 24-year-old, who lived in a quiet village near the Swedish university town of Uppsala with her parents and siblings, had recently graduated as a teacher, a career she was passionate about, and had big dreams for the future.

But in the early hours of the morning, all of that hope came to an end. An explosion ripped through their home, removing the windows and walls, and ending Soha’s life.

She is not thought to have been the intended target of September’s bomb attack – reports at the time said it could have been a neighbour related to a gang member – but was an innocent victim with no connections to gang violence.

Soha’s family were shattered by her loss and their home destroyed. “Her father just wanted to jump into the grave,” Dr Véronique Simon, who taught her at Uppsala and attended her funeral, told the Observer. “She was young, beautiful, full of life, intelligent, ambitious, a great student and helpful with other students.”

Five months on, her devastated family are understood to still be living in temporary accommodation with little help and awaiting justice.

The blast was one of hundreds of instances of potentially deadly explosives planted at residential addresses across Sweden in the past three years. In 2020 there were a total of 107 detonations, according to police figures, and 13 attempts. In 2023 the number soared to 149 detonations and 62 attempts.

After a wave of explosions and gang violence in the autumn, Sweden is in the midst of another surge of violence – with four explosions at domestic addresses in the past nine days alone, including in Stockholm and in the city of Gävle north of the capital. Many of the recent explosions are believed to have been directed at addresses linked to the notorious criminal network Foxtrot.

Newly qualified teacher Soha Saad, 24, died when her family’s home was hit by an explosion reportedly targeting a neighbour. Photograph: handout

In recent years, Sweden has been caught in the grip of escalating gang conflict involving shootings and explosions – largely driven by drug trafficking, involving firearms and bombs. September was the worst month for fatal shootings in Sweden since 2016, with 11 deaths, and 2023 saw the most explosions per year to date.

The Moderate party-run coalition – supported by the far-right Sweden Democrats – have pledged to take action by sending more young people to prison and giving police more powers to search people and vehicles. But with younger and younger people being pulled into crime, turning them into “child soldiers”, the violence is showing little sign of stopping.

The explosions – usually targeting rival gang members and their families – often contain dynamite or gunpowder-based substances, according to police. Hand grenades have also been used.

In most countries, tracking down the address of a potential victim could be a laborious process. But not in Sweden, where it is possible to find out the address and personal details of just about anybody with a single Google search. Experts say criminals are being greatly helped by a 248-year-old law, forming part of Sweden’s constitution.

The 1776 freedom of the press act (tryckfrihetsförordningen) – a revered feature of Swedish society that gives everyone access to official records – marked the world’s first law regulating the right to free speech; the documents are protected as a world heritage site by Unesco.

“Public access to information is a fundamental principle in Sweden’s form of government,” according to the Swedish Institute for Human Rights (SIHR). One of the fundamental laws, the Freedom of the Press Act, contains provisions on the right to access official documents. According to this rule all documents available at an authority are in principle open for the public.”

As a result, the Swedish Tax Agency’s national registration data is open to anyone to access. While traditionally that required a phone call, in a digital world online services such as Eniro, Hitta and Mrkoll mean it takes little more than a second to find out the age, address, floor number and move-in date of pretty much anybody.

Even if individuals ask to be removed from such sites, some will only do so for 30 days, while information can linger on Google, and the tax agency’s bar for protecting personal information is extraordinarily high.

Police at the scene of an explosion at a block of flats in Handen, south of Stockholm on 5 February. Photograph: Tt News Agency/Reuters

Camilla Karp, who manages protected personal data at the Swedish tax office, said in order to be granted protection there must be a current threat against the person and a named person or group behind it. Even then, citizens have to move house in order to guarantee their information will not appear online.

“You can go in and ask to be removed [from websites], but as soon as it goes on Google, the history will always remain there.”

A total of 30,000 citizens are protected (Sweden’s population is 10.5 million), the majority of whom are women who have been in violent relationships. After last year’s wave of shootings and explosions Karp saw a “big increase” in people who are related to criminals requesting to have their details protected to protect them from potential attack. “People are worried, scared.”


She freely admits that the availability of information online makes it easier for criminals to find people.

To change the system, a change in the constitution would be needed, she said. “It hasn’t kept up with digitalisation.” But that would require a political change, she added. “It’s nothing the tax office can make decisions about.” It would also be a human rights question, according to SIHR.

In October 2023, the government instructed a special investigator to review constitutional protection of online personal data directories, saying it aimed to strengthen data protection “to, among other things, make it more difficult for criminal networks to map people in different search services”. The justice minister, Gunnar Strömmer, called the issue a “systemic threat” and his department has admitted that such information can be used to carry out shootings and explosions, but the investigation is not due to report until November.

But easy availability of people’s contact details online has become part of day-to-day life, argues Hosni Teque-Omeirat, president and CEO of Eniro Group. His website alone hosts half a billion searches a year on its Swedish site, with half of the country’s population searching for an address or telephone number every week.

Police secure the scene where a hand grenade was found near the Israeli embassy in Stockholm on 31 January. Photograph: Henrik Montgomery/EPA

“You need to understand Swedish society to understand why we give addresses so easily. We live in a very open society,” he said. But he added: “There is of course good and bad to it.”

Although more people have been asking to be removed from the site, he insists it does not correlate to bombings and the problem does not lie with online platforms such as his. He is critical of the government’s investigation looking to limit online services, which he said would be pointless because bad actors looking for information could still request it from agencies such as the tax office under the constitution.

“They are not aiming at actually changing the right for a private person to get information, they are aiming at people like us publishing this information,” he said. “This information will still be available.”

But Lena Södersten, a lawyer at the Swedish Homeowners Association, which represents 230,000 households, said removing these details from the internet would significantly reduce targeted explosions. She is calling for a change in the constitution. “It is high time to change this,” she said, adding that many no longer feel safe inside their homes.

Having to call the tax office to ask for a person’s address would be far more of a deterrent than quickly looking somebody up on the internet from a smartphone, she argues. “We do not want to hide all information but make it harder for them than it lying so openly on the internet.”