BERLIN, Jan 11, (Agencies): A group of Pakistanis and a Syrian were attacked in Cologne amid tensions over New Year’s Eve assaults in the city that have been blamed largely on foreigners, police said Monday. Six Pakistani nationals were attacked Sunday by a group of around 20 people and two of them were briefly admitted to a hospital, police said. Also Sunday evening, a Syrian man was attacked by five people. He was injured but didn’t need treatment. Police said they received tips Sunday afternoon about groups of people who would “seek provocation,” but were still investigating whether the subsequent attacks were racially motivated and whether there was any link to the New Year’s assaults. Those assaults have stoked tensions over Germany’s open-door policy in the refugee crisis and prompted politicians to call for tougher laws against migrants who commit crimes.
Authorities and witnesses said the New Year’s Eve attackers were among a group of about 1,000 people described as predominantly Arab or North African who gathered at Cologne’s central train station. Some broke off into small groups and groped and robbed women, police said. Cologne police say 516 criminal complaints have now been filed with them in connection to the New Year’s attacks. About 40 percent involve allegations of sexual offenses.
In a separate incident, police said Sunday two migrants — a Syrian and an Afghan — were arrested in northern Germany on suspicion of attacking and robbing a French man who was wearing a Jewish skullcap. Police said the 49-year-old was in a waiting room at Puttgarden ferry port Saturday when the two men, saying “Jew” in Arabic, shoved him to the floor. Police said they stole a bag containing cash, a bank card, a train ticket and a cellphone.
The two men had been denied entry to Denmark the previous day because they lacked the correct papers and were waiting for a train to a refugee center. German authorities said Monday 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. Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, released initial findings of a criminal probe over the crime spree that has piled pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel over her liberal stance towards refugees. “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. Although no formal charges have been laid, 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 iconic Gothic cathedral during the year-end festivities. Amid concerns over reprisal assaults, police said a mob attacked a group of six Pakistanis late Sunday in Cologne, two of whom had to be hospitalised. Shortly afterwards, five unidentified assailants attacked a 39-year-old Syrian national, injuring him slightly.
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 Monday in the eastern city of Leipzig. In the face of outrage over the New Year’s Eve violence, Merkel has taken a tough line against convicted refugees. She has signalled her backing for changes to the law to ease expulsion rules, with officials within her ruling coalition expected to swiftly negotiate the proposals this week. Police said late Sunday that more than a week on from New Year’s Eve, some 516 complaints had now been lodged, including 40 percent that are related to sexual assault. Witnesses described terrifying scenes of hundreds of women running a gauntlet of groping hands, lewd insults and robberies in the mob violence.
The scale of the Cologne assaults has shocked Germany and put a spotlight on the 1.1 million asylum seekers who arrived in the country last year. It has also fuelled fear, with a poll published by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper saying that 39 percent of those surveyed felt police did not provide sufficient protection for the public at large, while 57 percent did. And just under half (49 percent) believed the same sort of mob violence could hit their hometown, reported the newspaper which headlined its article with the question: “Is the New Year’s Eve scandal the result of wrong policies?” A separate poll by broadcaster RTL found that 57 percent of Germans feared crime would rise along with the record influx of asylum seekers, while 40 percent disagreed. Nevertheless a majority — 60 percent — said their opinion of foreigners has not changed, while 37 percent said they have become more critical and negative about newcomers. Justice Minister Heiko Maas has said he believed the violence in the western city of Cologne was organised. “For such a horde of people to meet and commit such crimes, it has to have been planned somehow,” he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.