German minister: Mass sexual assault "seems to have been coordinated"

Germany's justice minister seemed to confirm on Wednesday that a series of sexual assaults that occurred in Cologne on New Year's Eve were part of a coordinated effort.

"The whole thing seems to have been coordinated," Heiko Maas told public broadcaster ZDF, adding that the wave of over 90 sexual assaults and one rape in the western German city were unlikely to have coincided by chance.

The mass attacks, which took place near Cologne's main train station around midnight, are understood to have been perpetrated by men of North African descent. Similar crimes occurred in Hamburg, where 27 complaints were filed.

Though it remains unclear whether the men are asylum seekers or second-generation immigrants, the crimes have unleashed a fierce debate in Germany about the repercussions of allowing 1.1 million migrants to enter the country over the course of 2015.

Details about the identity of the assailants are sparse. German police said Wednesday that it was investigating three suspects but refused to elaborate due to the sensitive nature of the investigation.

The mayor of Cologne came under fire on Wednesday after suggesting a code of conduct for women in response to the mass assaults.

People took to social media under the hashtag #EineArmlaenge - German for "an arm's length" - to lambast Mayor Henriette Reker's suggestion that women keep a certain distance from strangers on the street and remain within groups to avoid being singled out.

Reker, who made international headlines in October after being stabbed on the campaign trail due to her pro-refugee stance, has been accused of victim-blaming. Her critics argue that her focus should be on ramping up security and bringing the attackers to justice.

Police in Hamburg and Stuttgart have said that similar crimes were committed amid New Year's Eve revelry in the cities, though on a significantly smaller scale.

Last update: Wed, 06/01/2016 - 13:20

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