Since January, police in Cologne, Germany, have been investigating reports of dozens of sexual assaults at a New Year’s Eve celebration. To date, over 1,000 reports have been filed, including 467 by victims of sexual crimes ranging from insults to groping to one rape. Prosecutors say that of the suspects they’ve identified, the majority are from Morocco and Algeria, some refugees and some in the country illegally. Only 12 are linked to sex crimes.
The identity of the attackers has been, to put it mildly, controversial: Germany accepted around a million asylum seekers in 2015, giving rise to handwringing about how they would integrate into German society. After the attacks in Cologne, there were accusations that the media weren’t covering them because they were concerned about inciting violence against refugees. And there were specific reports that the attackers were all recent refugees from Syria, with one supposedly saying to police, “I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs Merkel invited me.”
That quote sounds fake as hell, but the identity of the suspects is now much clearer: prosecutor Ulrich Bremer told reporters that of the 73 people they’ve identified so far, most are from North Africa: 30 from Morocco and 27 from Algeria. The others identified are four Iraqis, three Germans, three Syrians, three Tunisians, and one each from Libya, Iran and Montenegro. Just 12 of those 73 suspects are linked to sexual crimes; the majority of the 1,067 reported incidents from that night were robberies. Only one of the suspected sexual assaulters—a man from Morocco seeking asylum—is in custody.
Ulrich told the AP that the suspects have “various legal statuses:”
“The overwhelming majority of persons fall into the general category of refugees,” Bremer told The Associated Press, saying recent reports describing only three of the suspects as refugees were “total nonsense.”
Initially, authorities in Cologne were accused of downplaying the fact that the attackers included many asylum-seekers because of the political sensitivity of the issue.
“They have various legal statuses, including illegal entry, asylum-seekers and asylum applicants,” he said of the foreign suspects. “That covers the overwhelming majority of suspects.”
Germany is already looking to limit immigration from North African countries, agreeing to designate Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia “safe” as a way to reduce the number of migrants they accept from there. In January, an anti-immigrant protest in Cologne organized by far-right groups—but also attended by women’s rights organizations—turned violent, with three police officers and a journalist injured.
Participants of a women’s flash mob demonstrate against racism and sexism in Cologne, Germany, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. Women’s rights activists, far-right demonstrators and left-wing counter-protesters all attended the rally. Photo via AP Images