Locals voice fears, minister vows punishment after 'Arab' crowd blamed for sex assaults in Cologne
“What happened at the Cologne main train station and other locations in Germany is unacceptable, it may not repeat itself and the offenders have to be punished,” Maas said during a press-conference in Berlin on Tuesday.
Cologne police received at least 60 complaints of various sexual assaults, including one allegation of rape, after New Year celebrations in the city.
The women were attacked by a group of around 1,000 young men, described by witnesses as being of “Arab or North African” origin and intoxicated, in the central square near Cologne Central Station.
One of the victims of the attack said that her bottom and breasts were grabbed, and that she had been “touched around 100 times” by the mob.
“We need to clarify whether this was a new form of organized crime, which state institutions have to take action against,” the justice minister said.
“We are focused on determining the assailants and to introduce them to their punishment,” Maas added, stressing that “all are equal before the law.”
According to the minister, not only the perpetrators, but also “those who were there, who had provided the setting, that women could not escape,” will also face justice as “accomplices” to the crime.
Cologne’s Mayor, Henriette Reker, held a crisis meeting on Tuesday over the mass sexual assaults, saying afterwards that she expects “the strictest prosecution” for the attackers.
The mayor also urged more preventative measures to be implemented in the city to avoid similar incidents in the future.
“For me prevention means, of course, to think about the fact that, especially, young women and girls were involved there and these young women and girls must be better protected. This means that they must party, party Carnival [hosted by Cologne in February], but this time they should be better prepared than they were until now," he said.
During the election campaign last autumn, Reker received a knife wound from a man angered by the influx of refugees to Germany and the mayor’s pro-migrant stance.
The city police, Wolfgang Albers, said that police presence in Cologne will be reinforced after the events.
“This will happen with open presence and hidden presence. We will also organize a trouble spot, especially for the Carnival. And there will also be temporary video surveillance," Albers said.
‘I wouldn't walk alone at night here anymore’
RT took to streets of Cologne and talked to local women, who said that their life would not be same after what happened.
“Now I wouldn't walk alone at night here anymore, I would make sure that I am accompanied. I wouldn't take lone streets anymore and I would stay in bigger groups,” one of the women said.
"I find it horrible,” another woman said. “The girls to whom this happened won't be happy anymore, they will pass their lives being afraid and I am also afraid when I have to go to the main station in the dark.”
She also blamed the police for its inability to stop the sexual crimes that were committed near Cologne Central Station.
“I wonder where the police were. The police is always that present at the station. Were they that afraid of those men, that they didn't intervene? Was there no possibility to do something?” the woman wondered.
Eventually, 200 officers were deployed in the center of the city to disperse the crowd on New Year’s Eve, including 143 local policemen in addition to 70 federal officers.
Germany has been the main destination for refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, with the country accommodating nearly 1.1 million refugees in 2015, according to the Saechsische Zeitung daily.
The Cologne attacks took place hours after a New Year address by Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which she expressed confidence that Germany would succeed in integrating refugees and benefit from their arrival.
“We can do it,” said the Merkel said, adding that Germans should strike the perfect balance between being simultaneously “self-confident and free, humanitarian and open to the world” so that “our values, our traditions, our sense of justice, our language, our laws, our rules” could be applied “to all who wish to live here.”
Pegida forecasts coming true?
There is a connection between the immigrant flow to Germany and the sexual assaults in Cologne, Tatjana Festerling, one of the key-figures in German anti-immigrant Pegida group, told RT.
Al least eight people involved in attacks on women on New Year’s Eve “had their asylum seeking papers with them,” she said.
According to the activist, the events in Cologne are “exactly what we (Pegida) have been warning for over a year.”
They will surely boost anti-immigrant moods in Germany as “one can’t blame people that they become more radical facing this attack on our liberal order,” she said.
Festerling also noted that it took five days for the news of the assaults to reach the media because the German “politicians are trying to conceal and deny it.”
“In Germany this so-called ‘welcome culture’ is like a religion. And everybody, who criticizes uncontrolled flooding with mostly Muslim young men, is called a Nazi and has to shut up,” she said.
“It’s really the question why the police wasn’t better prepared for this New Year’s evening,” the activist wondered as the males who were believed to have been responsible for the attacks on women, were already known to the police as troublemakers.
The police shouldn’t be blamed for the Cologne events as it’s simply overwhelmed by the amount of people arriving in Germany despite having no right for political refugee status, Michael Opperskalski, the editor in chief of local magazine, Geheim, said.
“The government and responsible institutions are giving safe haven for criminal gangs” in order for them to be organized in Germany and used “as foot soldiers for regime change also in Algeria, Syria and other countries in the Middle East,” Opperskalski told RT.