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Retaliation Attacks in Cologne as 'Hooligan' Gangs Launch Foreigner 'Manhunt'

Tensions remain high in Germany as citizens struggle to comprehend the consequences of the mass attacks on New Year's Eve. Blame has fallen on the police, on migrants, and on the German government.

by Sally Hayden
Jan 11 2016, 11:38am

Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News

The number of reported New Year's Eve attacks in Cologne, Germany, has now risen to 516, according to police, who said that 40 percent of those involved sexual assaults.

Meanwhile, authorities also said that a group of six Pakistanis and a Syrian national were attacked in the city late on Sunday night. Two of the Pakistani men were hospitalized after being set upon by about of 20 assailants.

The local Express newspaper reported that Sunday's attacks had been planned by "rocker and hooligan gangs," who had used social media to launch a "manhunt" of foreigners. 

Tensions remain high in Germany as citizens struggle to comprehend the consequences of the mass attacks on December 31. Blame has fallen on the police for their insufficient reaction, on migrants because of the reported origin of the attackers, and on the German government.

Police have said the attackers were among a group of 1,000 men of "North African or Middle Eastern" appearance, who congregated near Cologne Cathedral on New Year's Eve.

Related: Here's What Happened at the Dueling Protests Over the Mass Sexual Assault in Germany

Some 1.1 million migrants and refugees arrived in Germany last year, after the country adopted a welcoming stance that even saw them briefly bypass the Dublin regulations for Syrian arrivals, which say a migrant entering Europe must be returned to the first country they are fingerprinted in. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was praised for setting an example and leading the way, as Europe grappled with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

The scale of the New Year's Eve assaults has given leverage to anti-immigration groups, which have long been calling for Germany to toughen its immigration policies. However, some politicians and women's rights activists have accused them of using this incident to further their own political aims.

Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas said on Sunday he believes the attacks were planned and coordinated. "My suspicion is that this specific date was picked, and a certain number of people expected." He cited police reports suggesting that some north African migrant communities had made plans to meet in the square on New Year's Eve.

Maas also told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the attacks did not mean that foreigners could not be integrated into German society, calling this rhetoric "complete nonsense, and accused the far-right Alternative for Germany party and PEGIDA protesters of latching on to this for propaganda purposes.

On Saturday, dual protests were held close to the city's cathedral — also the backdrop to the New Year's Eve attacks — and the atmosphere was febrile. Police used water canons on the PEGIDA protesters, who themselves threw glass bottles at officers, while the pro-immigration group hurled an occasional firecracker. Individuals from both sides were arrested.

Many more police were in attendance than had been on duty in the area on the night of the mass assaults, when the relative powerlessness of the cops was heavily criticized. German police chief Wolfgang Albers was forced into early retirement after the extent of the assaults began to become more evident.

Meanwhile, women's rights activists — who stood separately holding signs on the steps of the cathedral — were verbally attacked by passersby, who called them dumb and stupid for suggesting that sexual assaults happen all over the world, and that perpetrators can be of all nationalities. 

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd