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German Justice Minister: Cologne attacks planned in advance

Minister of Justice Heiko Maas has said he believes the sexual assaults in Cologne were 'coordinated and prepared' ahead of time. He also accused xenophobic groups of using the crimes to stir up hatred.

Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas was the latest high-profile politician to speak out about the string of sexual assaults in Cologne on Sunday. In an interview with the popular "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper, Maas voiced his suspicions that the crimes which have the whole country reeling were not the result of an opportunistic mob mentality but a thought-out, planned attack on the city's women.

"No one can tell me that it wasn't coordinated and prepared," the minister said. "My suspicion is that this specific date was picked, and a certain number of people expected. This would again add another dimension [to the crimes]."

The newspaper provided details from official police reports citing the use of social networks by some north African migrant communities to encourage their fellows to join them in the square between the Cologne train station and the cathedral, where the now hundreds of incidents of molestation and pick-pocketing took place.

Maas was careful to echo his colleagues, however, when it came to warning the public against placing blame on the country's immigrants, saying "to assume from somebody's origin whether or not they are delinquent is quite reckless." The minister added that it is "complete nonsense" to take these crimes as evidence that foreigners cannot be integrated into German society.

Maas lashes out at PEGIDA, AfD

In the interview, Maas also accused the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, along with the organizers of the anti-Islamization PEGIDA marches, of using Cologne for propaganda purposes.

"There is the only way they can explain how shamelessly they operate their sweeping campaign against foreigners," Maas said, referring to Saturday's PEGIDA demonstration at the Cologne train station, which was itself met with a flashmob of counter-protesters condemning racism and sexism.

All that being said, Maas added that "cultural background justifies or excuses nothing. There is no acceptable explanation [for the assaults]. For us, men and women have equal rights in all matters. Everyone who lives here must accept that."

In the coming days, Maas' Social Democrats (SPD) are expected to join coalition partners, Chancellor Angela Merkel's (CDU) in presenting new laws to the Bundestag that would expedite the deportation of asylum seekers and migrants who commit crimes. The administration has received a hefty amount of criticism for ill-preparedness when dealing with the open-door policy it has adopted towards Europe's migrant crisis.

Watch video 01:28

Cologne: Police put stop to Pegida demo

es/ng (AFP, KNA)

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