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NEW YEAR'S EVE SEXUAL ASSAULTS

CRIME

Police hunting 16 over Cologne sexual assaults

Cologne police said on Thursday that they have identified 16 suspects in the wave of sexual assaults around the city's main train station on New Year's Eve.

Police hunting 16 over Cologne sexual assaults
Police outside Cologne main train station on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Most of the suspects have not yet been identified by name, but have been singled out in picture or video recordings.

The total number of crime reports submitted to police in the western cathedral city reached 121 by Thursday, with around three-quarters of them relating to sexual assault.

Two women submitted reports of rape.

Germany has been shocked at the extent of the thefts, violence and sexual assaults on New Year's Eve in Cologne – and at the apparent inability of police to handle them – vivdly depicted in a police report that emerged on Thursday.

The perpetrators were among a large crowd of men of reportedly Arab or north African backgrounds who gathered around the train station, drinking and discharging fireworks.

Politicians and police have been pointing the finger of blame at one another – while the racially charged character of the events has poured fuel on the fire of an already tense debate over the number of refugees in Germany.

While there is no evidence that any of the perpetrators were refugees, conservatives and the far-right have gladly built the attacks into complaints over the large numbers of Muslims who have arrived in Germany seeking asylum since summer 2015.

'Self-defence force' forms in Düsseldorf

Meanwhile, a number of people in Düsseldorf – one of Cologne's neighbouring cities – joined a group urging the formation of a “Bürgerwehr” or self-defence force on Facebook, the Rheinische Post (RP) reported on Thursday.

Organizers in the group posted that they planned to “patrol through the city” to help women if they saw them under attack.

They said that the group was not political or violent, but had simply formed to make the city “safer for our women”.

Around 1,000 people had joined the group, which plans its first outing on Saturday, after it had existed for just one day.

“The police are responsible for public security in Germany,” a city police spokesman told RP. “Going in search of criminals in a conscientious and targeted way is not the business of ordinary citizens.”

SEE ALSO: Police report shows their side of Cologne assaults

CRIME

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

Josef S. was found guilty of being an accessory to murder while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945, presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial on Monday.

But prosecutors said he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the camp and called for him to be punished with five years behind bars.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor

More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

Prosecutors said the man had aided and abetted the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942” and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.

He was 21 years old at the time.

Contradictory statements

During the trial, S. made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up”.

At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural labourer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.

After the war, the man was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.

He remained at liberty during the trial, which began in 2021 but has been delayed several times because of his health.

Despite his conviction, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars, given his age.

His lawyer Stefan Waterkamp told AFP ahead of the verdict that if found guilty, he would appeal.

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these twilight justice cases.

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

By David COURBET

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