An American woman has told how she was rescued from being sexually assaulted on New Year’s Eve in Cologne by a group of Syrian refugees.
Caitlin Duncan, a neuroscience student from Seattle, told the New York Times she had become separated from her boyfriend in the crowded square outside the city’s famous cathedral and main railway station.
She described a man stealing her hat before another “grabbed” her from behind, searching through her pockets and a third man tried to kiss her face and neck.
The 27-year-old escaped and attempted to complain to police but they were busy trying to clear the square and shoved her back into the crowd, where another group of men started groping her and pulling her hair.
“I went into a kind of fighting mode, and kicked and hit and pushed until I got away,” she said. “I was getting really scared.”
That was when she was approached by a group of Syrian refugees offering help.
They formed a protective cordon around Ms Duncan to help her through the crowd, offered to phone her boyfriend and searched for him with her when she could not remember his number.
The couple were eventually reunited inside the railway station, with Ms Duncan crying in relief.
Among the group was Hesham Ahmad Mohammad, a 32-year-old primary school teacher who fled Aleppo and was celebrating New Year’s Eve in Cologne with other Syrian friends who have recently arrived in Germany.
He told the New York Times he was also frightened by the groups committing the attacks, saying they had “lost their minds” on drink and drugs.
“We keep hearing news about refugees all day: ‘They are bad people, they must go back to their home,’ ” he said.
“When I hear that in the news, I am sad. Because we know that there were bad boys and bad people. But the good people, nobody speaks about them.”
Germany reacts to Cologne New Year's Eve attacks
Germany reacts to Cologne New Year's Eve attacks
Women protest against sexism outside Cologne Cathedral on 5 January after the assaults
Women protest against sexism in Cologne following the rash of sex attacks on New Year's Eve
Police initially failed to mention the assaults in report the following morning
Police officers patrol in front of the main station of Cologne, Germany
German far-right supporters demonstrate at Cologne`s train station (Reuters)
Supporters of anti-immigration right-wing movement Pegida in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016.
Police used pepper spray to control supporters of Pegida, Hogesa (Hooligans against Salafists) and other right-wing populist groups as they protested against the New Year's Eve sex attacks on 9 January, 2016 in Cologne, Germany
Police use a water cannon during a protest march by supporters of anti-immigration right-wing movement Pegida in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016
Police use pepper spray against supporters of anti-immigration right-wing movement Pegida, in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016.
Artist Mira Moiré protests naked in Cologne against the mass sex attacks on New Year's Eve
A demonstrator holds a sign in German that reads 'No violence against women' during a demonstration in the wake of the sexual assaults on New Year's Eve, outside the cathedeal in Cologne, Germany, 09 January 2016.
Counter demonstrators hold up a sign reading "Against sexism, against racism" as they protest against a demonstration of the islamophobic movement PEGIDA at the train station in Cologne, Germany, on January 9, 2016.
Demonstration by a women’s group on Saturday (AP)
Ms Duncan said she and Mr Mohammad are now friends and speak regularly, adding: “In the end it turned out really well.”
Police said asylum seekers were among up to 1,000 drunken men mostly of “Arab of North African origin” responsible for the attacks, sparking a wave of anti-refugee protests and revenge attacks across Germany.
Opinion polls show support for taking in current levels of migrants has declined in the fortnight since the assaults, while Angela Merkel has already vowed to review asylum rules and make it easier to deport foreign criminals.
A total of 751 people have filed 676 criminal complaints relating to the New Year’s Eve in Cologne, including 347 allegations of sexual assault.
Out of 19 main suspects being investigated, 10 are asylum seekers, and the hunt for perpetrators continues.
Police have put up appeals for information in Arabic and German in all refugee accommodation in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Rewards are being offered for anything leading to arrests for sexual offences, the poster says, describing “groups of young men approaching victims to rob them and commit "serious sexual assaults".
Tensions continued in Germany today, with a public swimming pool in the town of Bornheim banning male asylum seekers because of sexual harassment complaints.
Businesses also reported a huge increase German sales of Tasers and pepper spray since New Year’s Eve.
“People are afraid of refugees,” manufacturer Vladimir Kupa told the Handelsblatt newspaper.
Additional reporting by agencies