Europe

Cologne tightens security for carnival after assaults

  • 4 February 2016
  • From the section Europe
Media captionHeavy police presence at Cologne carnival

Cologne has beefed up security for the city's annual carnival, after many women suffered sexual assaults and robberies there on New Year's Eve.

The city in western Germany has put 2,500 police officers on the streets for the week-long event.

Germany was shocked by the New Year assaults, largely blamed on migrants. More than 100 women were victims, but the full scale only emerged later.

Separately, police have arrested three suspected Islamist militants in raids.

Cologne sex attacks: Women describe 'terrible' assaults

The raids on flats and offices took place on Thursday in Berlin, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.

The two men and one woman detained are among four suspected of links to the so-called Islamic State group.

One of those held was being sought by Algerian authorities, and they may have been planning an attack in Germany, police said.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Some police officers have been trialling "body cams" which can film suspects during incidents

Migration surge

Cologne's annual carnival sees women take charge of the city on the first day, traditionally referred to as "Weiberfastnacht".

The New Year unrest in the city fuelled German unease about a huge influx of asylum seekers.

Two men - a Tunisian and a Moroccan - have been charged over the Cologne offences.

But in total there were 945 complaints to Cologne police after the New Year trouble, 559 of them allegations of sexual assault. Thirty-five suspects are being investigated.

German authorities spoke of a new type of crime, in which gangs of drunken men - described as North African - targeted women.

Image caption Public in last year's event (left) and people attending the celebrations this year (right)
Image copyright AP
Image caption Authorities have promised increased security on the streets
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cologne's carnival is a traditional week-long celebration

Cologne resident Miriam was attacked as she and a friend made their way home on New Year's Eve.

She said she was going to the carnival celebrations "but with really mixed feelings".

"I'm wondering if something like that could happen again."

Miriam's mother, Jozi, said the incident changed the way she sees migrants.

"We live in a multicultural area with lots of Moroccans, I've never had a second thought before - we're friends, we greet each other, talk to each other. It was all fine. But now I'm looking at it with different eyes."

Organisers have not said how many people have attended this year's carnival, but correspondents say the numbers are much lower than in previous years.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption This year's event takes place amid the shock caused by the New Year assaults
Image copyright AP
Image caption Many women are taking part in celebrations, but there has been a lower turnout than in previous years
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Around 2,500 police officers have been deployed and safe areas created as part of the security measures

Super-recognisers

Police will be present at a new "Security Point" for women near Cologne Cathedral - the area where most of the assaults took place during New Year celebrations.

Police have been trialling "body cams" which can film suspects during incidents.

German authorities have also brought in British face recognition experts to help identify those involve in the attacks on New Year's Eve.

Known as "super-recognisers", the officers from the London Metropolitan Police can recognise up to 95% of the faces they have seen - compared to about 20% for most people.

Cologne's mayor, Henriette Reker, said that officials had reacted to New Year's Eve events with "specific measures" but that safety could never be 100% guaranteed.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Cologne police have been issued with "body cams" to provide video evidence

Migration to Germany from outside the EU soared to a record 1.1 million last year.

The Cologne assaults contributed to a slump in the approval rating of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

She has been criticised by conservative allies, as well as by many opposition politicians, for having welcomed so many asylum seekers to Germany.

The many Syrian and Iraqi refugees generally get asylum, but many economic migrants from outside the EU are also trying to settle in Germany.