Cologne's Police Chief Pulled From Post After "Nightmare" NYE Assault Spree

Photo: Roberto Pfeil/Getty Images.
Police in Cologne following a slew of reported New Year's Eve assaults.
Update: The probe and political fallout surrounding the New Year's Eve assaults in Cologne continued Friday, as officials announced that the city's police chief will leave his post. The decision to place Wolfgang Albers on temporary retirement is meant "to restore public trust in the police" following the violent crime spree near the city's train station, the BBC reported. Some 170 incident reports have now been filed, including 120 related to sexual assault, The New York Times reported. Reports that the suspects in the December 31 incident were of North African or Arab descent have inflamed an already tense debate over the influx of migrants and refugees in Germany. Officials now say 18 of the 31 people identified in connection with the crimes, many of which targeted women in the crowds of revelers, were asylum-seekers. Police reports say the people believed to be involved in the crimes hailed from multiple countries in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, according to The Times. At least one suspect is from the United States. Officials noted, however, that no arrests have been made. About 100 investigators continue to work on the case.

This story was originally published on January 6, 2015.

Reports of an unprecedented number of New Year's Eve assaults targeting women in the German city of Cologne have rattled the country, sparking protests and calls for a crackdown on what one official called a "completely new dimension of crime."

At least 90 complaints involving assault or robbery outside the city's main train station have been filed with authorities, the BBC reports. But nearly a week later, many details of what happened Thursday night remain murky. The estimated number of assailants cited in reports has ranged from several dozen to about 1,000 "drunk and aggressive" men. No arrests have been made, according to AFP.

Reports that many of the attackers were of North African or Arab descent have stoked already high tensions about the influx of migrants and refugees resettling in Germany, which has agreed to accept more than 1 million asylum-seekers in 2015. About 300 people reportedly staged a protest outside the city's iconic cathedral Tuesday, some blaming Chancellor Angela Merkel, who supports accepting asylum-seekers.

But authorities say there is no evidence that refugees who arrived in Germany last year were involved in the assaults, AFP reported. Officials urged the public not to blame an entire population — or the crisis that has driven millions from their homes in Syria and other conflict-battered states — for the assaults.

"It's completely link a group that appeared to come from North Africa with the refugees," Mayor Henriette Reker said, according to the BBC.

Reker condemned the "monstrous" attacks, adding "we cannot allow this to become a lawless area." But she also stirred controversy by suggesting that women could avoid future assaults by keeping "at an arm’s length” away from strangers, according to The Guardian and other outlets, a statement that was widely mocked and criticized on social media.

While many questions about what happened on Thursday remain, witness accounts cited in the local press paint a troubling picture from a night that was supposed to be a celebration of the year to come. Here are three of those stories, translated from German outlets.

Katja L.

A woman identified as Katja L. told the Köln Express that she was assaulted after walking through what she called a "tunnel" of young men when she came out of the station.

"I was groped everywhere. It was a nightmare," she said. "Although we shouted...the guys did not stop. [I] think I was touched around 100 times in the 200 meters."
Anne, 27, told the website for Der Spiegel newspaper that she had just arrived at the celebrations with her boyfriend when she felt "the first hand on my butt." Her assailant disappeared into a crowd that was "almost all just men." "I cannot describe; I simply felt uncomfortable," said Anne, who the paper said had not reported her experience to police.


Steffi said she was targeted by "sexist slurs" after she arrived in a crowd filled with "countless weeping women," AFP quoted her as telling the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

"I saw a girl...who was crying, with ripped stockings, her skirt askew — she was just wrecked," the 31-year-old reportedly said. "A young guy came out of the crowd and made vulgar comments. 'Can I help you? I know I can help you,' he said with a strong accent, and made obscene gestures with his hand. When she wanted to get away, he followed her. I told him to piss off."

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