Cologne officials say the systematic assaults on women are a new type of crime
The scale of the attacks on women at the city’s central train station has shocked Germany. About 1,000 drunk and aggressive young men were involved.
City police chief Wolfgang Albers called it “a completely new dimension of crime”. The men were of Arab or North African appearance, he said.
Women were also targeted in Hamburg.
But the Cologne assaults – near the city’s iconic cathedral – were the most serious, German media report. At least one woman was raped, and many were groped.
Police were deployed in the area because of the crowds on New Year’s Eve but failed to spot the many attacks on women, according to reports.
Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker said the attacks were “monstrous”. “We cannot allow this to become a lawless area,” she said, insisting that visitors could not come to the city fearing attack.
Cologne news website Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger says the suspects were already known to police because of frequent pickpocketing in and around Cologne central station.
Police are trying to find out whether the men who targeted women on Thursday night, surrounding, molesting and robbing them, organised their assaults through social media.
They are also studying mobile phone and CCTV surveillance videos.
In Hamburg several women told police that gangs of men had molested and robbed them on New Year’s Eve on the Reeperbahn – a street known for its boisterous night life.