Germany shocked by Cologne New Year gang assaults on women
'It’s completely improper… to link a group that appeared to come from North Africa with the refugees,' says Cologne Mayor
German police have identified three suspects in connection with attacks on women at New Year celebrations in the city of Cologne, the interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) said today.
About 90 women reported being robbed, threatened or sexually molested at New Year celebrations outside the city's cathedral by young, mostly drunk, men, police said, in events they described as "a new dimension in crime".
The police chief in Cologne has said the perpetrators appeared to be of "Arab or North African" origin, prompting right-wing groups to condemn the government for its welcoming stance towards refugees.
Government officials have cautioned against putting foreigners and refugees under "blanket suspicion" because of the assaults.
Police said the attacks occurred when about 1,000 men split into gangs as officers cleared a square to stop fireworks being thrown from the top of steps into the crowd below.
NRW Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger told a news conference no arrests had yet been made. He declined to give further details of the investigation but said he expected "a very detailed report" this week from the police.
Around 150 people gathered in front of Cologne's cathedral on Tuesday evening to protest against violence against women. One of them held a sign saying: "Ms Merkel where are you? What do you say? This scares us!"
Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed shock at the attacks.
Earlier, officials in Germany sought to dampen speculation that the suspected perpetrators of sexual assaults and robberies against dozens of women during New Year’s celebrations were refugees.
The men who targeted the women appeared to be of “Arab or North African origin” according to police – a description which has led some people to criticise German Chancellor Angela Merkel for welcoming one million refugees into the country last year.
But officials have warned against such speculation. Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, told reporters: “It’s completely improper… to link a group that appeared to come from North Africa with the refugees."
Her comments were echoed by Wolfgang Albers, Cologne’s police chief, who said it was “absolutely inadmissible” to speculate that the perpetrators were refugees.
“We don’t currently have any suspects, so we don’t know who the perpetrators were. All we know is that the police at the scene perceived that it was mostly young men aged 18 to 35 from the Arab or North African region.”
The Chancellor’s office said Ms Merkel had “expressed her outrage about these despicable assaults and sexual attacks” and called for the perpetrators to be found “as quickly and comprehensively as possible and to punish them without regard to their origin or background”.
Although no arrests have been made, the incident has led some people to criticise the Chancellor’s tolerance towards refugees.
Mayor of Cologne urges code of conduct for young women to prevent future assaultsChristopher Freiherr von Mengersen, head of the nationalist Pro-NRW movement, told The New York Times: “It is time to send a signal. We locals can no longer put up with everything that is being routinely swept under the rug based on a false sense of tolerance.”
Frauke Petry, leader of the nationalist party Alternative for Germany, which has called for a clampdown of the number of asylum-seekers entering the country, said: “Is this the ‘cosmopolitan and [colourful]’ Germany that Merkel wished for?”
On Tuesday night, around 300 people gathered to protest near the site of the assaults in front of Cologne Cathedral. One woman held a sign with the words: “Mrs Merkel, where are you? What do you say? This is scary.”
Police have urged witnesses to come forward with any information they may have.