German police probe claims of sex attacks by migrant gangs
Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30
Police in Germany are investigating an alarming series of sexual assaults on women trying to celebrate the New Year by large groups of men "of Arab or North African appearance".
Authorities in the city of Cologne held a crisis meeting after police described a group of some 1,000 men who took over the area around the main station on New Year's Eve.
Women were robbed, groped, and had their underwear torn from their bodies, while couples had fireworks thrown at them.
Police have received 90 criminal complaints, around a quarter of them for sexual assault, including one case of rape.
Police in Hamburg say there was a series of similar incidents in the city's Reeperbahn red-light area. Witnesses described groups of five to 15 men of who "hunted" women in the streets.
In Cologne, the attacks took place around the main station, opposite the cathedral, a traditional gathering spot to see in the New Year.
A 27-year-old witness named only as Anne told 'Spiegel' magazine's she was shocked by the crowds when she arrived at the station with her boyfriend.
"The whole place was full and almost only with men," she said. "Only a few frightened women, who were being stared at." Soon after, she said, she "felt the first hand on my behind".
The men began firing fireworks directly into the crowd.
"I saw people jump and run, because a rocket had been fired at their legs," she said.
"Shortly after midnight, the first women came to us," an unnamed police officer told the local 'Express' newspaper.
"Crying and in shock, they described how they had been severely sexually harassed. We went to look for women in the crowd. I picked one up from the ground. She was screaming and crying. Her underwear had been torn from her body."
Although those behind the incidents have not been identified, they have been widely linked with the large influx of asylum-seekers to Germany.
One MP from Angela Merkel's party called for the numbers of refugees in the country to be reduced in the light of the attacks.
"It can't go on like this," Steffen Bilger wrote on Twitter. "Urgently needed: reduction of influx, secure borders, intensifying of deportations and meaningful justice. #Cologne."
There were allegations of a police "cover-up" on social media after it took five days for the scale of the incidents to emerge, with some claiming the authorities wanted to hide the ethnicity of the perpetrators to avoid social tensions.
An unidentified male witness told WDR television he and his girlfriend had been surrounded in Cologne by "drunk and aggressive" men who threatened them and groped her.
"The crimes were committed by a group of people who from appearance were largely from the North African or Arab world," Wolfgang Albers, the Cologne police chief, said.
There have been suggestions that those behind the attacks may have been organised criminals using sexual assaults to distract their victims while they were robbed.
Some three-quarters of the criminal complaints filed in Cologne were for robbery.
"We know this sort of behaviour as a pickpocketing trick," a police spokesman in Hamburg said. "But this phenomenon is unusual." (© Daily Telegraph London)