A Cologne court has imposed a suspended jail term on a young Moroccan man after thefts and sexual assaults on New Year's Eve. The incidents have become the focus of German debate about refugees.
Wednesday's proceedings began with a six-month suspended jail term for a 23-year-old Moroccan man convicted of stealing a mobile phone from a woman on Cologne's crowded railway station forecourt and drug possession.
The man, who was also ordered to pay a 100 euro ($110) fine, admitted taking the woman's phone shortly before midnight on December 31.
She had been photographing Cologne's adjacent Dom cathedral as city residents noisily awaited the arrival of 2016 with fireworks.
Afghan refugee gave decisive tip
The court was told that she did not immediately see the perpetrator but was able to recover her phone after an Afghan refugee, who had witnessed the theft, directed her to the the man. He had been tripped up by someone else, and was then arrested by police. They also found him to be carrying a small quantity of amphetamine in his left sock. He had since been held in investigative custody.
During Wednesday's hearing, prosecutors sought a six-and-a-half-month suspended prison term. In court, the accused apologized to the 20-year-old woman. She accepted it readily, according to the German news agency DPA.
Cases against Tunisian and Moroccan
Cologne's administrative court was due later Wednesday to hear cases against two young men - one from Tunisia and the other from Morocco - arrested on charges of stealing a camera from a man's bag on the Hohenzollern bridge which carries trains and pedestrians across the Rhine river.
Court spokesman Wolfgang Schorn said two accomplices in that incident managed to escape unidentified.
Thirteen other suspects implicated in New Year's incidents remained in investigative custody, he told WDR television, which is the public channel in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous regional state.
Struggling to restore confidence
Authorities, struggling to restore public confidence after hundreds of women said they were groped and robbed, recently said in all 73 suspects had been identified, partly by examining grainy video recordings.
Cologne Prosecutor Ulrich Bremer said last week that most suspects fell "into the general category of refugees."
The identification follows debate among the judiciary and police as to whether suspects' nationalities should be made public or withheld to uphold anti-discrimination rules.
New police chief
Cologne ended up with a new police chief Jürgen Mathies whose first major test came in early February during the Rhineland's mass Carnival festivities.
His predecessor Wolfgang Alhers was sent into early retirement for failing to prevent the New Year's chaos. Authorities were also accused of initially downplaying the incidents because of sensitivities over stating the suspects' nationalities.
Security fears have been heightened by public concern that jihadists might have slipped into Germany during the arrivals of 1.1 million refugees since last year.
Hearings precede regional elections
The Cologne court cases come in the run-up to three state assembly elections on March 13 that include neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate state.
It borders North Rhine-Westphalia from the south. Cologne's population of one million makes it NRW's largest municipality and the fourth largest in Germany.
ipj/jil (APF, dpa, epd, WDR)