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New Year’s Eve Cologne Attackers May Never Be Found

Most of the men who sexually assaulted women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve may never be caught, the city’s police chief, Juergen Mathies, has said.

CCTV footage was not good enough to identify sex crimes. Police have identified 75 suspects in connection with the thefts and assaults that took place around Cologne station.

A 23-year-old Moroccan man given a suspended sentence for theft has become the first person convicted for his part in the spate of attacks. The man, named only as Younis A, was handed a six-month suspended sentence and a €100-euro (£79; $100) fine for stealing a mobile phone. Another Moroccan, aged 18, was given two years’ probation and community service for stealing a bag, and a 22-year-old Tunisian was handed a three-month suspended sentence as well as community service. They are among 13 men who have been arrested for stealing.

The attacks have been largely blamed on people from North Africa who entered Germany illegally or have sought asylum. Younis A sat with his head bowed so close to the table that his lawyer had to tell him to lift his chin and face the court.

The young Moroccan admitted he had snatched a mobile phone from a young woman on New Year’s Eve and stood briefly to mumble an apology in her direction. His lawyer told the court that he had had nothing to do with the sexual assaults that were perpetrated that night and accused the court of turning him into a scapegoat.

New Year’s Eve was “a terrible event with terrible consequences”, he said. “People are buying pepper spray, vigilantes run through the city and beat up foreigners. But don’t hold my client responsible for these events.”

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Only one person, a 26-year-old Algerian asylum seeker, has been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault.

“The CCTV footage is not good enough to clearly identify sexual assaults. We can see some thefts but that’s all. We are relying on witness accounts and victims identifying their attackers,” said Mr Mathies. Mr Mathies’ predecessor Wolfgang Albers was fired over his handling of the wave of assaults and robberies.

An official report found that Cologne police made “serious mistakes” in not calling in reinforcements and in the way they informed the public. About 1,000 men of North African and Arab origin gathered near Cologne’s main station on 31 December. Smaller groups formed, first surrounding women and then threatening and attacking them, the report said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy has since come under mounting criticism. About 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived in Germany in 2015.