LONDON • At first, there was complete silence from officials. As rumours spread on social media, police had nothing to say about allegations of mass sexual assaults and other crimes on New Year's Eve in the German city of Cologne.
It was only days later that officials reported that hundreds of women had been victims of assault in Cologne, Hamburg and other German cities.
The numbers now emerging have left the country in shock. According to a leaked police document published by Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and broadcasters NDR and WDR, previous estimates have to be dramatically revised - upward.
The authorities now think that on New Year's Eve, more than 1,200 women were sexually assaulted in various German cities, including more than 600 in Cologne and about 400 in Hamburg.
More than 2,000 men were allegedly involved, and 120 suspects - about half of them foreign nationals who had only recently arrived in Germany - have been identified.
The authorities now think that on New Year's Eve, more than 1,200 women were sexually assaulted in various German cities, including more than 600 in Cologne and about 400 in Hamburg. More than 2,000 men were allegedly involved, and 120 suspects... have been identified.
Only four have been convicted, but more trials are under way. On Thursday, a court in Cologne handed an Iraqi and an Algerian suspended one-year sentences. Both arrived in Germany in the past two years, a court spokesman said. He declined to specify whether the two had sought asylum.
Officials have linked the sexual assaults to the influx of refugees.
"There is a connection between the emergence of this phenomenon and the rapid migration in 2015," said Mr Holger Munch, president of the German Federal Crime Police Office. Many suspects originally came to Germany from North African countries rather than Syria, officials said.
Germany has relatively low CCTV coverage, and it is not expected that significantly more CCTV cameras will be installed.
However, its Parliament passed a stricter sexual assault law last week that will make it easier for courts to sentence those who facilitate or are involved in assaults, and which is also supposed to make it easier for refugees to be deported if they are convicted in sex assault cases - an aspect of the new law that activists and advocates for refugees have harshly criticised.