Heiko Maas.jpg
Photograph: Photo by SPD Saar, used under CC BY-ND

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas believes that the attacks on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve were organized, according to comments in Sunday's edition of the Bild newspaper.

"When such a horde meets to commit crimes, it seems to have been planned in some way. Nobody can tell me that it wasn't coordinated or pre-prepared," Maas was quoted in the popular tabloid as saying.

Maas was also not prepared to rule out a connection between the Cologne attacks and those on women in other German cities on the same night.

"All links must be very carefully examined. The suspicion seems likely that a certain date and the number of people to be expected were selected," he told Bild.

Maas was echoing comments he had made earlier in the week.

At the same time Maas warned people not to draw conclusions about how law-abiding migrants are from the attacks, after a police report said the suspects were mostly asylum seekers or people living in Germany illegally.

The number of complaints related to the mass assaults has rocketed to 379, more than double the previously reported number of around 170. Around 1,000 intoxicated men are thought to have robbed, sexually harassed and in some cases raped women during turn-of-the-year celebrations.

The wave of New Year's Eve crimes in Cologne were mirrored in Hamburg, where 108 complaints were filed, and to a much lesser extent in other cities.

"To infer from someone's background that he is more likely to commit a crime or not I find to be risky," he said.

He also said it was totally wrong to make any connection between the excesses of New Year's Eve in Cologne and the arrival of over 1 million refugees in Germany in 2015.

"Of course there are among the more than 1 million people those who commit crimes, but there is no indication that the number of crimes has risen disproportionately since the influx," he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to the tense debate on Saturday by promising tougher action against criminals of foreign nationality, including measures to revoke the right to claim asylum from people who break the law.

The leader of the parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Thomas Oppermann, said on Sunday the coalition partners should not descend into an "ideological row" over the issue.

He said he was "confident that the demands by the SPD for more staff and video surveillance could be decided quickly."

"We will also look impartially into whether we need to change the legal position," he added, a reference to calls by Chancellor Angela Merkel for asylum seekers who commit crimes to be deported more quickly.

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