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Germany

Reports: asylum seekers among Cologne attacks suspects

Police identified some suspects who harassed women in Cologne on New Year's Eve as asylum seekers, media reports say. City police reportedly did not want to publicize this because of its "politically awkward" nature.

City authorities identified some suspects in the Cologne New Year's Eve attacks as asylum seekers from Syria, detaining or questioning some of them, according to reports by local newspaper "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" and national daily "Die Welt," which published an online preview of investigations by its "Welt am Sonntag" Sunday paper.

According to the newspapers' reports, citing officers on duty on New Year's Eve, officials checked the IDs of at least 100 people present at Cologne's central station on December 31 after their behavior became conspicuous. Seventy-one people were identified, 11 people were remanded into custody and 32 criminal complaints were registered, according to the Welt am Sonntag (WamS) report.

"There were, quite to the contrary of what was said publicly, identity checks on numerous people," the WamS quoted an unnamed officer as saying. "Most of them were recently-arrived asylum seekers."

The first internal police report on the event - a so-called "wichtige Ereignis Meldung" ("important event announcement") - spoke of a crowd mainly of "North African and Arab" origin. According to the Kölner Stadt-anzeiger, the officer leading the team at the station wanted the report to include mention of the Syrians and asylum seekers, but the senior officer writing the "WE-Meldung" decided not to, saying it would be "politically awkward."

It is still unclear whether the same persons were involved in the assaults.

Offenders were after 'sexual amusement'

WamS also received information contradicting another official statement by the city police, which said the main intention of the men in Cologne was to steal from passengers and that assault was secondary. However, "what actually happened was the exact opposite," a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

"For the mostly Arabic offenders, sexual assault was the priority, or, to express it from their point of view, their sexual amusement was thepriority. A group of men would encircle a female victim, close the loop, and then start groping the woman," WamS quoted the officer as saying.

The deputy chief of the trade union for police employees (the GdP), Ernst Walter, suggested that the Cologne police's mishandling of the case could cost city police chief Wolfgang Albers his job: "I'm asking myself this," Walter said. "How could the police publish a message on January 1, saying that New Year's celebrations had been peaceful?"

"All these shocking incidents" had become known the same night, he said, adding that officers from the federal police were trying to help women and were worried that "people could have even died."

The media reports still largely contradict Cologne police's official account of events, which say that 16 possible suspects have so far been identified, with that group "to the largest extent" hailing from North Africa.

The state's interior minister, Ralf Jäger, has already ordered a first full formal report on the incident, which is due for submission on Monday. When asked for a comment by the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger local paper, police referred the reporters to the impending formal report, saying they would neither confirm nor deny the report.

Nearly 1,000 men are reported to have divided themselves into smaller groups and robbed and sexually harassed women at Cologne's central station on New Year's Eve. Similar incidents occurred on a far smaller scale in Hamburg and Stuttgart.

mg/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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