Cologne locals attack two Pakistanis and a Syrian refugees
Local newspaper says attackers arranged via Facebook to go on ‘manhunt’ of foreigners after assaults on women on New Year’s Eve
Gangs attacked groups of foreigners in four separate incidents on Sunday in Cologne, the city where dozens of New Year’s Eve assaults on women took place, German police have said, as the government warned against letting the incident lead to suspicion of all migrants.
Cologne police said on Monday afternoon that the victims were two Pakistanis, two Syrians and a group of Africans.
Police said they had stopped and checked 153 people on Sunday evening, 13 of whom were known members of far-right organisations and a further 80 of whom belonged to rocker gangs.
They confirmed they had received information in advance about a “peaceful walkabout” by members of far-right gangs planned on social media for Sunday evening.
In response, police said they would ramp up their presence in Cologne’s inner city with daily special patrols.
The local newspaper News reported that the attackers were members of gangs who arranged via Facebook to meet in downtown Cologne to start a “manhunt” of foreigners.
The assaults on women in Cologne and other German cities have prompted more than 600 criminal complaints, with the police investigation focusing at least partly on asylum seekers and migrants. Police said on Sunday 516 of the complaints related to incidents in Cologne – a jump of 395 over the weekend – and that about 40% of them were of a sexual nature.
The rest of the women in Cologne said they had phones or wallets stolen or were otherwise physically assaulted.
The assaults have prompted a highly charged debate in Germany about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy on refugees and migrants, more than 1 million of whom entered the country last year.
“As abominable as the crimes in Cologne and other cities were, one thing remains clear: there is no justification for blanket agitation against foreigners,” justice minister Heiko Maas said, adding that some people “appear just to have been waiting for the events of Cologne.”
On Monday, a regional parliamentary commission in North-Rhine Westphalia, where Cologne is the largest city, will question police and others about the events on New Year’s Eve.
Pegida, the anti-Islam political movement whose supporters threw bottles and firecrackers at a march in Cologne on Saturday before being dispersed by riot police, is to hold a rally in the eastern German city of Leipzig on Monday evening.
The attacks on women in Cologne have also sparked a debate about tougher rules for migrants who break the law, faster deportation procedures and increased security measures such as more video surveillance in public areas and more police.
German authorities said nearly all the suspects in the Cologne attacks were “almost exclusively people with an immigrant background”, according to initial findings of a criminal investigation.
“Witness accounts and the report by the police as well as findings by the federal police indicate that nearly all the people who committed these crimes were almost exclusively people with an immigrant background,” said Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Although no formal charges have been made, Jäger said the attackers emerged from a group of more than 1,000 “Arab and north African” men who gathered between the city’s main railway station and the cathedral during the festivities.
Police in Hamburg said they had received 133 complaints from women who were sexually assaulted or robbed in and around the city’s red light district on the same night. Similar incidents appear to have taken place on a smaller scale in other German cities on New Year’s Eve. In Frankfurt, 15 women have told police they were assaulted, and in Stuttgart a further 12.