cologne njemačka policija police germany.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MAJA HITIJ

The men who committed mass sexual assaults and thefts in Cologne on New Year's Eve were "almost exclusively" of a North African or Arab background, the interior minister of North Rhine Westphalia said Monday at an extraordinary parliamentary meeting.

"Witness and local police reports as well as accounts from the federal police point to the fact that the crimes were committed almost exclusively by people with a migrant background," Ralf Jaeger said during an inquiry at the state parliament in Dusseldorf.

The comments add further fuel to an ongoing debate in Germany over the repercussions of Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow 1.1 million migrants and refugees mainly from the Middle East to enter the country in 2015.

More than 500 police complaints - 40 per cent of them related to sexual violence - have been filed in Cologne, prompting politicians to call for increased security, the expulsion of criminal asylum seekers and the reduction of migrant flows going forward.

Tensions over the incidents have also resulted in a series of violent crimes against migrants in recent days.

Six Pakistanis and one Syrian asylum seekers were attacked by groups of men in central Cologne late Sunday.

Two of the six Pakistani men were brought to hospital with serious injuries after as many as 20 people attacked them at just before 7 pm (1800 GMT) on Sunday near Cologne's main train station.

About 20 minutes later, a group of five men attacked a Syrian man at a nearby location. Police were investigating whether the two attacks were committed by the same group of people and whether the violence was motivated by xenophobic sentiment.

The attackers were a motley crew of "rockers, hooligans and bouncers" who had organized their activities on Facebook, regional newspaper Koelner Express reported.

A closed group on the social media platform had called on members to take part in a "manhunt" in response to the New Year's Eve assaults and thefts that police have linked in part to asylum seekers.

Police stopped and searched around 100 people late Sunday after receiving tip-offs that right-wing extremists were forming vigilante groups to police the streets following the mass violence in Cologne and other German cities.

Also late on Sunday, a Jewish man wearing a skullcap in the northern German town of Puttgarden was attacked and robbed by two refugees from Syria and Afghanistan respectively, public broadcaster NDR reported.

The two men, who were arrested by police shortly after the attack, had been trying unsuccessfully to cross Germany's northern border into Denmark.

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