Germany's justice minister today condemned assaults and robberies that took place on New Year's eve in Cologne, a cultural capital along the Rhine River in western Germany, promising to pursue the perpetrators — and insisting that rumors about the perpetrators' alleged status as refugees won't impact the investigation.
Ninety criminal complaints have been filed so far by witnesses or victims who described a group of 20-30 men surrounding victims, according to Agence France Press, which cited local police.
The complaints allege robbery, groping and in one case, at least, rape, according to the BBC.
A Cologne newspaper and the BBC both reported that the perpetrators numbered an estimated 1,000 men, and said the city's police described the appearance of the men involved in the attack as "Arab or north African" origin, prompting speculation that the perpetrators may be refugees.
But the local police stressed that the perpetrators were not, in fact, refugees, according to a local paper.
"This is not about where someone is from but what they did," Heiko Mass, the German justice minister, said at a press conference. "Making an issue out of it, lumping it together with the refugee issue, is nothing but exploitation. Now is the time to determine the facts and then decide on the necessary consequences."
Mass called the assault "a wholly new dimension of organized crime."
More than 950,000 refugees, many from Iraq and Syria, arrived in Germany in 2015.
"It would be disastrous if we allowed these [criminals] to poison the climate against refugees and other foreigners," Aydan Özoguz, Germany's minister for immigration and integration, told the Spiegel Online, Germany's leading news magazine.
"[T]his must not lead to refugees of whatever origin, who are seeking our protection from persecution, being placed under general suspicion," Thomas de Maiziere, the ministry of interior, said.
This story is developing and will be updated.
Jina Moore is the global women's rights correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Berlin.
Contact Jina Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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