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

Two Pakistanis and one Syrian man were attacked by groups of men in central Cologne, police said Monday, in an escalation of tensions prompted by a mass sexual assault that took place in the western German city on New Year's Eve.

The two Pakistani men were brought to hospital with serious injuries after as many as 20 people attacked them and four other Pakistani asylum seekers 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 nearby. 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 several German cities less than two weeks ago.

The news comes two days after riot police broke up a protest of around 1,700 right-wing extremists rallying against Germany's open-door migration policy in Cologne. Police used water cannon to disperse the protesters.

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