Friday 15 December 2017

Police detain 650 'North Africans'

A police car drives past the Cologne Cathedral near the station square. Photo: Getty Images
A police car drives past the Cologne Cathedral near the station square. Photo: Getty Images

Kim Ripoll Cologne

German police said yesterday they had prevented a repeat of the assaults and robberies suffered by hundreds of women in Cologne a year ago by screening 650 mostly North African men on New Year's Eve.

Police detained and screened many of the men at the main railway station as they headed towards the centre of Cologne in western Germany, where the attacks a year earlier fuelled criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migrant policy.

Cologne police chief Juergen Mathies did not say how many of the men were subsequently allowed into the city centre, but denied that the checks amounted to racial profiling. He also said many of those detained had been aggressive.

"This was clearly about preventing similar incidents to last year," he said.

"A large part of this group that was checked was such that criminal acts were to be expected. That is why we took this clear approach."

Police arrested 92 people - including 16 Germans and 10 Syrians - during Saturday night's celebrations in Cologne. Police also installed new video surveillance cameras to monitor the station square.

Many of the suspects in the attacks a year ago were of North African and Arab appearance, the police have said.

Those attacks helped fuel the rise of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which hurt Ms Merkel's conservatives in a series of regional polls last year and threaten to erode her support in this year's national election.

In her New Year's address to the nation, Ms Merkel said Islamist terrorism was the biggest test facing Germany, and she vowed to improve security after an Isil attack in Berlin before Christmas that killed 12 people.

Meanwhile, an Italian bomb squad officer lost an eye and had to have a hand amputated after a suspicious package he was examining exploded before dawn yesterday.

Police said the package left outside a bookshop with links to a group of extreme right activists, CasaPound, had caught the attention of a police patrol. The explosives squad was called at about 5am, and that's when the officer was injured.

Irish Independent

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