Young, Male Migrants Suspected in New Year's Assaults

05 January, 2016

German authorities said Tuesday that young women were sexually harassed and robbed by hundreds of young men on New Year's Eve.

Attacks took place in the western city of Cologne, in Hamburg in the north, and Stuttgart in the south, reported the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Most of the attacks took place in the main square in Cologne during celebrations.

Victims and witnesses described the attackers as young men "who appeared to have a North African or Arabic" background, the newspapers reported.

More than 90 people in Cologne have filed legal complaints, according to police.

In Hamburg, police said that 10 women had reported being sexually assaulted and robbed. The Wall Street Journal said there were incidents in Stuttgart, but no arrests have been made in any of the cities.

Germany took in more than 1 million migrants and refugees last year. Most of them come from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa. Tensions have risen in Germany as it tries to deal with the social and political changes there.

The New York Times said the assault went largely unreported for days. That delay "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 larger debate about migrants.

People were gathered to see the city's fireworks over the Rhine River. Some were going to bars and nightclubs.

The Wall Street Journal said Heiko Maas, Germany's justice minister, warned that the ethnicity, or background, of the criminals does not matter.

He said "the rule of law does not look at where someone comes from but what they did."

In Cologne, police said that they believe that several hundred men, ages 15 to 35, were involved in the violence. It began in the early hours on New Year's Day. The square was closed after men were throwing fireworks, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Police say the men broke into smaller groups. Each group circled a woman, the police said, and some would grope the victim. Other men stole the women's cellphones or wallets.

One woman told police she had been raped.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the attacks "disgusting."

Cologne is a city of about 1 million residents. It is one of Germany's most diverse cities, and it took in more than 10,000 refugees last year. Many of them were young men from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, said the Wall Street Journal.

The paper said the city will increase security after the crimes, as they search for suspects.

The newspaper said anti-immigrant and far-right groups have said these crimes show the dangers of accepting such large numbers of migrants.

Frauke Petry, the head of the extreme right party, Alternative for Germany, told a Cologne newspaper that the violence is "the consequence of an uncontrolled migration," according to the New York Times.

Chancellor Merkel has defended her migration policy, even as the issue has caused political problems in her conservative bloc.

On Tuesday, the Chancellor called for mutual respect.

I'm Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

harass - v. bother someone in a repeated way

sexual assault -v. illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person

grope -v. to touch someone sexually in an unwanted and unexpected way

diverse -adj. people, or things, that are different from each other

bloc -- n. a group of people or countries that are connected by a treaty or agreement or by common goals