Coordinated Attacks on Women in Cologne Were Unprecedented, Germany Says

Melissa Eddy, New York Times, January 5, 2016

German authorities said on Tuesday that coordinated attacks in which young women were sexually harassed and robbed by hundreds of young men on New Year’s Eve in the western city of Cologne were unprecedented in scale and nature.

The assault, which went largely unreported for days, set off a national outcry after the Cologne police described the attackers as young men “who appeared to have a North African or Arabic” background, based on testimony from victims and witnesses. More than 90 people have filed legal complaints, the police said on Tuesday.

The police in Hamburg also said that 10 women had reported being sexually assaulted and robbed in a similar fashion on the same night, and they urged witnesses to come forward.

Germany took in more than one million migrants last year, and with the country struggling to deal with the political, social and wider consequences of the influx, the delayed public response has led to concerns that the authorities were playing down the seriousness of the assault to prevent it from becoming a point of contention in the broader debate.

The assault took place late on Thursday on the vast public square in front of the city’s main train station, a central transit point for anyone coming or going from a fireworks display over the Rhine and the bars and nightclubs in the heart of the city, in the shadow of its landmark cathedral.

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The Cologne police say they believe several hundred men, ages 15 to 35, were involved in the violence that began in the early hours of the New Year, after the square was cleared because men had been throwing firecrackers into the crowd.

Wolfgang Albers, Cologne’s chief of police, said the assaults had taken place in the chaos that followed, as the square was emptied. The men appeared to have broken into smaller groups, the police said, with each one encircling a woman; while some would grope the victim, others would steal her wallet or cellphone.

One victim reported that she had been raped, the police said.

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Cologne, with roughly one million inhabitants, is among Germany’s most ethnically diverse cities, and it took in more than 10,000 refugees last year, many of them young men from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. {snip}

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