'Foreign suspects' in New Year's Eve attacks

German minister releases initial findings of probe into attacks on women in Cologne

COLOGNE • The German authorities yesterday said that nearly all the suspects in a rash of New Year's Eve violence against women in Cologne were "of foreign origin", as foreigners came under attack amid surging tensions.

Mr Ralf Jaeger, Interior Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, released initial findings of a criminal investigation into the attacks.

"Witness accounts and the report by the (local) police as well as findings by the federal police indicate that nearly all the people who committed these crimes were of foreign origin," he said.

"It looks as if people with a migration background were almost exclusively responsible for the criminal acts," he told a special commission on the violence.

Although no formal charges have been laid, Mr Jaeger said the attackers emerged from a group of more than 1,000 "Arab and North African" men who gathered between the main railway station and the city's Gothic cathedral during the year-end festivities.

He also criticised the Cologne police, saying their response that night was "not acceptable".

FINDINGS OF INVESTIGATION

Witness accounts and the report by the (local) police as well as findings by the federal police indicate that nearly all the people who committed these crimes were of foreign origin.

MR RALF JAEGER, Interior Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, on the spate of sexual violence towards women on New Year's Eve in Cologne.

After Mr Jaeger's speech, the police commissioner of the Interior Ministry Bernd Heinen read out a 15-page report in which he pointed out that the local operational command had considered the existing forces as adequate.

According to the report, 14 of the 19 suspects came from Morocco and Algeria, while two are minors. Among the 516 reported crimes, there are 237 reports of sexual offences and 107 cases of theft. There was no evidence so far that the attacks were steered or organised, said the report.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the fact that people of foreign descent were behind much of the violence should not be kept quiet, but neither should it lead people to suspect all refugees and migrants. He also described the violence as "completely unacceptable" and said it was urgent that new, tougher legislation be agreed to punish the perpetrators.

Amid concerns over reprisal assaults, the police said a mob attacked a group of six Pakistanis late on Sunday in Cologne, two of whom had to be hospitalised. Shortly afterwards, five assailants attacked a 39-year-old Syrian national, injuring him slightly.

Police said they had received reports of "groups of people seeking to provoke" and dispatched reinforcements to the area. Officers detained two for refusing to obey police orders.

After far-right protests erupted in Cologne during the weekend, a sister group of the xenophobic Pegida movement was due to hold another rally later yesterday in the eastern city of Leipzig.

Meanwhile, a poll published by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper showed that 39 per cent of Germans surveyed felt the police did not provide sufficient protection for the public at large, while 57 per cent did. And 49 per cent believed the same sort of violence could hit their hometown.

Another poll, by broadcaster RTL, said 57 per cent of Germans feared crime would rise along with the influx of asylum seekers.

In an address yesterday to ambassadors to the Holy See, Pope Francis, while acknowledging security and other concerns over the recent mass influx of migrants, said the wave of migration seemed to be undermining the foundations of Europe's "humanistic spirit".

He urged European leaders not to to lose "the values and principles of humanity... however much they may prove, in some moments of history, a burden difficult to bear".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline ''Foreign suspects' in New Year's Eve attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe