The number of criminal cases filed with Cologne police has grown to 516, 40 percent of which relate to sexual assaults, police said. The German Justice Minister suggested that the Cologne attacks may have been coordinated with assaults in other cities.
Police said that 19 suspects are under investigation, while a 19-year-old Moroccan was arrested on suspicion of theft during the mass assaults near Cologne’s train station on New Year’s Eve.
Meanwhile, in Hamburg police are investigating 133 cases relating to assaults during New Year’s celebrations in the St. Pauli district.
Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Bielefeld police have also registered cases of assaults. All of them were similar to those in Cologne, where among about 1,000 men gathered near the train station, groups described as migrants attacked women, groped and robbed them.
‘Possible connection to assaults in other cities’
On Sunday, the German justice minister urged authorities to investigate whether the Cologne assaults were directly related to those in other cities during New Year’s celebrations.
“If such a horde gathers in order to commit crimes, that appears in some form to be planned,” Minister Heiko Maas told the newspaper ‘Bild am Sonntag’. “Nobody can tell me that this was not coordinated or prepared.”
“All connections must be carefully checked,” he said. “There is a suspicion that a particular date was chosen with expected crowds. That would then be a new dimension.”
Similar cases have been registered in other European cities including Salzburg, Zurich and Helsinki.
The German newspaper also cited police as saying that certain African migrant communities urged on social networks to gather on NYE in the square between the Cologne train station and the cathedral where the attacks took place.
‘Cultural background justifies or excuses nothing’
Police have said in several reports that the attackers were described as men of “Arab or North African” origin. On Friday, Cologne police announced that over 30 suspects responsible for the violence had been identified. Around 20 of them were asylum-seekers.
In a leaked police report detailed by German media, a senior police official quoted one of the men engaged in the unrest as saying: “I’m a Syrian! You have to treat me kindly! Mrs.[Chancellor Angela] Merkel invited me.”
Merkel has been criticized for her open-armed migrant policy; in 2015 Germany was the EU country which welcomed the highest number of refugees. However, on Sunday Maas warned of making hasty public statements saying that “to assume from somebody’s origin whether or not they are delinquent is quite reckless.”
It is “complete nonsense” to take these crimes as evidence that foreigners cannot be integrated into German society. Though he 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.”
On Saturday, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party called for the strengthening of the country’s laws for asylum-seekers including the imposition of stricter penalties on those who commit crimes while seeking refuge in Germany, as well as speeding up their deportation process.
At the same time a large PEGIDA demonstration against the rash of assaults on women took place in Cologne. The anti-immigration movement called for the “expulsion” of refugees blaming them for the NYE assaults.
Maas denounced the PEDIGA protesters saying that “there is the only way they can explain how shamelessly they operate their sweeping campaign against foreigners.”
‘10 mn more asylum seekers headed for EU’
Despite being overburdened with the influx of refugees and migrants, Europe has housed only 10 percent of Syrian and Iraqi migrants , warned Germany’s Development Minister Gerd Muller in an interview with ‘Bild am Sonntag.’
More asylum seekers from “eight to ten million are still on the way,” he said.
“The biggest movements are ahead: Africa’s population will double in the coming decades,” said adding: “In the Sahara up to one million people have died trying to escape.”
He suggested that the EU has failed to tackle the refugee crisis. “The protection of external borders is not working. Schengen has collapsed. A fair distribution of refugees has not taken place,” he said.
He called on the international community to raise the level of cooperation on the issue.
“We cannot build fences around Germany and Europe,” he said.
He also said that if more refugees come they will fail to integrate into the European society. “We need a reduction. If we have a million again like last year, we cannot successfully integrate them at the same time.”
Meanwhile, some German officials have said that the country will soon reach its limit on excepting refugees. Among them was the head of Germany’s largest Muslim organization who warned in December that Germany’s capacity to take refugees in such overwhelming numbers is not endless.
Due to its humanitarian welfare state, Germany has been one of the main destinations for refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe from the crises in the Middle East and Africa. In 2015 alone nearly 1.1 million migrants arrived in Germany.