Cologne sex attack charge dismissed

A 26-year-old Algerian who faces charges of assaults on woman during New Year's Eve celebrations in Cologne, covers his head at a regional court in Cologne, western Germany, May 6, 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Algerian man covered his head as he appeared in court in Cologne

A judge in the German city of Cologne has dismissed sexual assault charges against an Algerian man, in the first case over a wave of New Year attacks.

A court spokesman told the BBC "it could not be proven" that the 26-year-old took part in the sexual assault.

He and a fellow Algerian, 23, were convicted of lesser charges and given six month suspended sentences.

The large-scale sexual assaults and robberies by men of North African and Arab appearance shocked Germany.

More than 1,000 criminal complaints were filed, hundreds of them alleging sexual assault, after women reported being surrounded by groups of men in and around Cologne's main station.

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Image copyright EPA
Image caption Large crowds gathered outside Cologne's cathedral and station on New Year's Eve

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The events in Cologne heightened tensions in the country over the large influx of refugee and migrants - 1.1m people arrived in Germany in 2015, some, but by no means all, fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq.

The head of the police inquiry, Detective Superintendent Thomas Schulte, told the BBC that 159 suspects had been investigated in connection with the attacks, about two-thirds of them Algerian or Moroccan nationals. Almost all were recent arrivals.

The two men in court on Friday were convicted of handling stolen goods, relating to the mobile phone of a victim which was found on one of them, and breaking into a car on a separate occasion.

The victim in Friday's case was not able to say with certainty in court that either man was involved in the assaults on her, according to German media reports.

Both men are currently in detention awaiting deportation from Germany, the court spokesman said.

Friday's convictions bring to 11 the number convicted on theft or similar charges in relation to the Cologne attacks.

Only one further case involving sexual assault charges is likely to come to court, prosecutors say, involving a Moroccan citizen arrested in Switzerland recently.

More than a thousand hours of CCTV footage has been analysed, says the BBC's Damien McGuinness in Berlin. But it was dark and the situation confused, so it is proving difficult for investigators to identify the perpetrators.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A 23-year-old Algerian was also in court in Cologne on Friday

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