Pedestrians walk up a flight of stairs at the central railway station of Cologne, Germany.
But despite the severity of the attacks (after all, being described as a “completely new dimension of crime” is a pretty damning statement), the incident received little media coverage in Germany (or abroad) until five days after the event.
According to witnesses, groups of 20-30 young men surrounded women during New Year’s festivities outside the main train station next to the Gothic cathedral, assaulted them and in many cases robbed them.
Cologne police said numerous attackers appeared to be originally from other countries, including Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, based on interviews with victims. Before the New Year, some German towns reportedly cancelled fireworks displays so as not to upset migrants who might associate the loud noises with the sounds of a war zone.
Protesters have taken to the streets in Germany after around 90 women were sexually assaulted, robbed or threatened during New Year celebrations. However, there was no official confirmation that asylum seekers had been involved in the violence. In Cologne, the attacks took place around the main station, opposite the cathedral, a traditional gathering spot to see in the New Year.
During a conversation with Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker Merkel expressed her “outrage over these disgusting attacks and sexual assaults”. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the strikes should not be used to strengthen an anti-refugee program. The incident has sparked a debate about the behavior of migrants in Germany after witnesses and police described the perpetrators as being of “Arab or North African origin”.
“In criminal law what’s important is proving a crime, and everyone is equal before the law”, he said.
A series of immediate measures have been announced in the German city of Cologne following a series of sexual assaults and other crimes.
(Translated)”The problem, of course, is ‘Where did, suddenly, 1,000 people come from?’ They say that they were 1,000 North Africans and that they were not refugees, but where did they come from, all of a sudden, in such a large amount?” She also called for everything to be done “to find the perpetrators as quickly and comprehensively as possible and to punish them without regard to their origin or background”, her office said.
“We need to prevent confusion about what constitutes happy behaviour and what is utterly separate from openness, especially in sexual behaviour”, she said.