HASSLARP, Sweden — Siv Persson passed through this tiny farm town with the wariness of a lost motorist in a tough city neighborhood.
"You'll understand if I don't stop or slow down," she said, hurriedly turning her two-door Ford past the old fish market. "It is not a good idea."
Persson isn't just a passerby; she is the local representative to the Swedish legislature. The fish market no longer sells seafood; it serves up a saucy chapter of the Oakland-based Hells Angels.
And for months now, the lawmaker and the outlaw bikers--enemies to the core--have known no peace because of a bloody motorcycle war that is barreling across Scandinavia. The combat pits home-grown copycats of America's most infamous biker gang against a local version of one of the Angels' chief rivals, the Houston-based Bandidos.
The problem is straightforward: The Angels and the newly arrived Bandidos have determined that the land of the midnight sun isn't big enough for both of them. And in just the past three months, police say, four gang members have died to prove it.
Facing death threats from unnamed bikers herself, Persson keeps in her pocketbook a fire-engine-red cellular phone that can transmit an alarm to police in seconds. Her mail is screened for explosives. She can't even accept a bouquet of flowers without a security officer first picking through it.
Their lives also on the line, albeit for other reasons, the Hells Angels in Hasslarp dwell like caged animals behind a tall fence topped with barbed wire. Rooftop surveillance cameras scope goings-on. Scaffolding surrounds most of the clubhouse, which has a hole the size of several watermelons blown through an upstairs wall.
"We don't talk to the press, man," an Angel with a bushy ponytail and black leather jacket told a reporter, suspiciously poking his head outside a metal gate plastered with a guard-dog warning. A second inquiry was rebuffed with a silent stare and a slammed door.
Twice since last summer, antitank missiles have pummeled the rural compound, fired by rival bikers holed up in a dairy farm-turned-fortress less than two miles down the road. The Bandidos, who police say heisted the weapons from a Swedish military depot, narrowly missed a neighboring house with children inside in one of the assaults.
"This is such a nice part of the country, where people live because it is--or should I say was--such a good place to be," said Persson, public enemy No. 1 among bikers because she has campaigned to rid Sweden of them. "Now you mention this place and people say, 'Oh yes, it's so nice there, but how are the shootings today?' "
This pastoral Scandinavian setting is indeed a peculiar battlefield, but it is not alone and it is not the first. The last motorcycle war in Scandinavia was fought only a decade ago in Denmark, where the region's gangs first gained prominence in the 1970s. Murderous turf wars have been waged from France to Canada.
This time, Scandinavia's biker front line extends through towns, big and small, from Denmark to Finland, stretching into new nooks and crannies as fast as an unmuffled Harley-Davidson can thunder by.
The combatants are local hooligans, outcasts and crooks who act out a rivalry born decades ago and thousands of miles away in California and Texas. In keeping with biker feuds elsewhere in the world, their arsenal includes grenades, assault rifles and missiles built for tank-to-tank warfare.
There have been shootouts at the Copenhagen and Oslo airports, missile raids on clubhouses here and in Denmark, a grenade attack at a Copenhagen prison and more than 20 drive-by shootings and car bombings in towns sprinkled below the Arctic Circle.
Police say the two gangs are backed by a large cadre of surrogates, wannabe club members known as "prospects" and "hang-arounds" who often prove themselves through outrageous behavior.
Authorities estimate that there are 1,000 outlaw bikers in Scandinavia, but the Hells Angels and Bandidos chapters themselves are highly selective. In Denmark, where both clubs have the deepest roots, their combined membership is under 100, and the numbers are smaller in Sweden, Norway and Finland, police say.
Even so, it is clear only one gang can stay, said Dag Gardare, a Stockholm police detective assigned to motorcycle gang crime.
"It is not like in the United States, where it is big enough to have the Hells Angels in California and the Bandidos in Texas," Gardare said. "Here they are right on top of each other, like nowhere else in the world."
Ostensibly, the deadly duel is about biker supremacy and was set off, according to one version, by an insulting barroom brawl in Denmark across the Oresund strait.
As the story goes, a desperate Hells Angel locked himself in the women's restroom to escape a carousing gang of Bandidos. That humbling episode--or perhaps one or many like it, since no one can say for certain--grew into a deadly tit-for-tat over biker honor and shame.