A British teenager has described her horror at seeing screaming women being attacked during the chaos on New Year’s Eve in Cologne.
More than 100 women were sexually assaulted on the night as huge gangs of men roamed a square outside the German city’s iconic cathedral and main railway station.
A 17-year-old British girl on holiday with her boyfriend was among the thousands of tourists in the city to celebrate the start of 2016.
She described the scenes they witnessed as they entered the square outside the Köln Hauptbahnhof at 10pm in an article for the BBC.
Drunk teenagers and young men were milling around everywhere, with some vomiting or passing out as smashed alcohol bottles littered the floor, the teenager said.
She described police frantically trying to contain fights as a huge crowd blocked the train station’s exits.
“We heard a woman screaming and crying somewhere in the midst of this crowd, appearing to be escaping from a foreign man, who was shouting back and pointing his finger at her and chasing her with his accomplices,” the girl wrote.
“Later on, we saw two men corner women at the cathedral and touch them while they were screaming for help and trying to fight back.
“The fireworks being ignited on the streets were simply another terrible aspect added on to the chaos that already surrounded us.”
The young woman wrote that she felt one of the rockets explode directly behind her at midnight but escaped serious injury as they left the area.
But returning at 2am, she found the “atmosphere had only worsened” with more fights and glass bottles being thrown.
“I saw a group of older foreign men go up to a group of younger girls (they looked under 18) in the underground train and started pushing them around and touching them, and the girls stumbled near to the train tracks,” she added.
“But thankfully a German man stood up and defended them, so the girls were able to run away.”
At least 121 victims have come forward to file criminal complaints of sexual assault and robbery during the New Year's Eve festivities, three quarters of which are sexual offences, including two accounts of rape.
Descriptions of attackers being of “Arab or North African origin” and speaking foreign languages has fuelled speculation that they were among more than a million asylum seekers who arrived in Germany this year.
Police in Cologne said it was too early to confirm who was behind the mass robberies and assaults and politicians have asked the public not to cast the blame on refugees in general.
Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, said: “Anyone who commits serious crimes, whatever their status, must face being deported from Germany.“
Cologne police said they have identified 16 young men “largely from North Africa” as suspects and continue to examine video footage and witness statements.
Officers are encouraging any victims of attacks on New Year’s Eve and witnesses to come forward.
Additional reporting by agencies