Reports flood in of sexual assaults against women across Germany as leaked police report states Cologne suspects ‘claimed to be Syrian refugees’
Three Syrians have been arrested in southern Germany for the alleged gang rape of two teenage girls on New Year’s Eve, as reports flood in of sexual assaults against women across the country.
A 21-year-old man and two 14-year-old boys are being held in Weil am Rhein, a small town near the Swiss and German borders, for the alleged rape of two girls aged 14 and 15.
Prosecutors allege that the two girls were held for several hours and gang-raped after attending a New Year celebration at the home of the 21-year-old man in the nearby village of Friedlingen.
Although the suspects have been in custody for several days, news of the arrests only emerged on Thursday. Prosecutors said they were kept secret to protect the victims’ identities
Police are searching for a fourth suspect believed to be the man’s 15-year-old brother. None of those involved have been named under German privacy laws.
The suspects are not asylum-seekers. The 21-year-old man and his brother are long-term German residents, while the two 14-year-olds live in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Prosecutors say they do not believe the incident is connected to the outbreak of sexual assaults against women in Cologne and other German cities over the New Year.
In addition to the more than 120 criminal complaints filed in Cologne, there have been reports of attacks on women across the country.
More than 50 criminal complaints have been filed by women in the northern city of Hamburg, 39 of them for sexual assault.
Witnesses described gangs of men who “hunted” women outside the night clubs of the city’s famous Reeperbahn neighbourhood.
“I was alone and suddenly I realised men were handling me,” one unnamed victim in the city told Spiegel magazine.
“I pushed away the hands and tried to scream. But when one hand went the next had already come. I felt helpless.”
Eleven women filed criminal complaints in Düsseldorf. Police described the incidents as similar to those in nearby Cologne. A group of residents has formed a vigilante group to protect women in the city from further attacks according to the local Rheinische Post newspaper.
In Frankfurt police are investigating seven criminal complaints of sexual assault, including the case of three women who were surrounded by a group of 10 men and “massively” groped.
In the southern city of Stuttgart two 18-year-old women were surrounded and groped by a group of around 15 men. They later discovered their mobile phones had been stolen. Police described the suspects as of “southern or Arab appearance”.
In the western city of Bielefeld, witnesses described women being sexually harassed on the streets and in a popular nightclub. Police identified a group of around 150 men of “North African appearance” as the culprits.
It emerged earlier on Thursday that some of those involved in the Cologne assaults claimed to be Syrian refugees, according to a leaked police report.
The outbreak of violence was also far more serious than previously thought, and at one point senior police officers feared “there could have been fatalities”.
Two publications have released what they claim is an internal report by a senior officer who was at the scene.
If confirmed, the report could have far-reaching consequences for Angela Merkel’s government as it tries to deal with the aftermath of the assaults.
Ministers have said there is no evidence asylum seekers were involved in the violence.
But the leaked police report, published in Bild newspaper and Spiegel, a news magazine, claims that one of those involved told officers: “I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs Merkel invited me.”
Another tore up his residence permit before the eyes of police, and told them: “You can’t do anything to me, I can get a new one tomorrow.”
A local newspaper reported that fifteen asylum-seekers from Syria and Afghanistan were briefly held by police on New Year’s Eve in connection with the sex attacks but were released.
The Express newspaper quoted an unnamed police officer who said his squad had detained several people who had “only been in Germany for a few weeks”.
“Of these people, 14 were from Syria and one was from Afghanistan. That’s the truth. Although it hurts,” he said.
The newspaper quoted a second police officer as confirming the 15 who were held had “residence permits for the asylum procedure”. Officers took down their names, and they are in the police records, he said.
If confirmed, the report will add new weight to claims of a police cover-up. The Cologne authorities have claimed they have no evidence whether asylum-seekers were involved.
It is not clear why the suspects were released but police officers have said they were overwhelmed on the night.
Police say they have identified 16 suspects from video recordings of the incidents. It is not known if the group includes any who were detained on New Year’s Eve.
Mrs Merkel’s critics have been quick to blame the outbreak of sexual assaults and robberies in Cologne and other cities, including Hamburg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, on the chancellor’s unpopular “open-door” refugee policy. Germany registered nearly 1.1 million asylum-seekers last year.
On Thursday, Germany’s justice minister warned that asylum-seekers could be deported if they are found to have taken part in the Cologne sexual assaults.
Heiko Maas said in an interview with the Funke newspaper group that “deportations would certainly be conceivable.”
He said the law allows for people to be deported during asylum proceedings if they’re sentenced to a year or more in prison. “The courts will have to decide on the level of sentences, but that penalty is in principle absolutely possible for sexual offenses,” he said.
Bild does not name the author of the police report, but identifies him as the commander of some 100 officers sent as reinforcements to the area outside Cologne’s main station on New Year’s Eve.
“When we arrived, our vehicles were pelted with firecrackers,” the report said. “In the forecourt and on the cathedral steps were a thousand people, mostly males of an immigrant background who were indiscriminately throwing fireworks and bottles into the crowd.”
Even the appearance of police did not stop the violence.
“Around 10.45pm, the station forecourt filled with people of an immigrant background. Women literally had to run the gauntlet through the mass of drunk men, in a way you can’t describe,” the report said.
Police say the suspects are not asylum seekers and they believe the incident is not connected to the sex attacks in Cologne and other German cities.
The 21-year-old suspect and his brother are German residents. The other suspects live in Switzerland and the Netherlands.