Muslims Celebrating the New Year

New Year’s Eve sex assaults also reported in Finland, Sweden and Austria

JANUARY 8, 2016

Network writer and AFPNews Corp Australia Network

WOMEN in other European cities were the targets of sex attacks on New Year’s Eve, similar to a spate of apparently co-ordinated sexual assaults on women in Germany.

Police in the western German city of Cologne said they had received 120 criminal complaints by Thursday and quoted witnesses as saying that groups of 20-30 young men “who appeared to be of Arab origin” had surrounded victims, assaulted them and in several cases robbed them on New Year’s Eve.

Similarly Finnish police have revealed an unusually high level of sexual harassment in Helsinki on New Year’s Eve and said they had been tipped off about plans by groups of asylum seekers to sexually harass women.

Swiss police said several women were allegedly robbed and sexually assaulted in Zurich on New Year’s Eve, adding the attack method appeared “a little bit similar” to that used in a spate of assaults in Germany.

And it has now emerged that similar sex attacks were carried out in Austria, but police didn’t publicise the incidents “to protect the privacy of the victims”.

The incidents only came to light after several females came forward to complain to local media.

One identified as Sabrina S (not her real name) told Austrian newspaper Osterreich that she and her friends were attacked by a group of 10-15 men while walking home from a new club in the historic district of Salzburg.

“A friend was grabbed by one of the men and put into a headlock. Her face was in his jacket. He cuddled her and licked her face. She then said that she had no strength to free herself, she was completely at his mercy,” Sabrina said.

It was only after she managed to hit and kick the attacker that her group was able to flee. She claimed to be aware of many other incidents after posting a warning on Facebook.

“Some wrote me that they were greatly distressed at the state bridge, the Makartsteg or the railway station. A girl has even reported it to have been abducted almost New Year’s Eve at the Town Hall by a group,” Sabrina said.

Helsinki deputy police chief Ilkka Koskimaki told AFP: “There hasn’t been this kind of harassment on previous New Year’s Eves or other occasions for that matter ... This is a completely new phenomenon in Helsinki.”

Security guards hired to patrol the city on New Year’s Eve told police there had been “widespread sexual harassment” at a central square where around 20,000 people had gathered for celebrations.

Three sexual assaults allegedly took place at Helsinki’s central railway station on New Year’s Eve, where around 1000 mostly Iraqi asylum seekers had converged.

“Police have ... received information about three cases of sexual assault, of which two have been filed as complaints,” Helsinki police said in a statement.

“The suspects were asylum seekers. The three were caught and taken into custody on the spot,” Koskimaki told AFP.

Police said they had increased their preparedness “to an exceptional level” in Helsinki for New Year’s Eve after being tipped off about possible problems.

“Ahead of New Year’s Eve, the police caught wind of information that asylum seekers in the capital region possibly had similar plans to what the men gathered in Cologne’s railway station have been reported to have had,” police said in a statement.

Koskimaki said police did not see a link between the Cologne and Helsinki incidents.

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, Finnish police also arrested six Iraqis at an asylum residency centre in Kirkkonummi, around 30km west of Helsinki, suspected of “publicly inciting criminal behaviour”. They were released on January 2.

According to Koskimaki, the arrests were linked to the information police received in the run-up to New Year’s Eve.

In November, Finnish authorities said around 10 asylum seekers were suspected of rapes, among the more than 1000 rapes reported to police in 2015.

In Zurich, six women reported being surrounded by “several dark-skinned men”, who had robbed, groped and molested them, police said, adding that this was an unusually high number for Switzerland.

A police statement mentioned the shocking rash of sexual assaults in several Germany cities also on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s a little bit similar,” Zurich police spokesman Marco Cortesi told AFP, stressing though that the scale of the alleged attacks was “difficult to compare.”

Barrage of car bombings wounds 20 in Iraq

Jan 1, 2011

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Militants blew up 13 cars in three hours Sunday, injuring at least 20 people while 13 Iraqis were killed in other violence that fed the turmoil following last month's contested parliamentary elections.

Sunni Arabs made their opening bid in what could be protracted negotiations to form a new government. Leaders of the minority's main political group, the Iraqi Accordance Front, traveled to the northern city of Irbil for a Monday meeting with the president of the Kurdish region.

Sudan, meanwhile, said six kidnapped embassy employees were freed Saturday, a day after Sudan announced it would close its Baghdad mission as demanded by al-Qaida in Iraq. A Cypriot kidnapped four months ago also was freed after his family paid a $200,000 ransom, a relative said.

A third hostage, a Lebanese engineer kidnapped four days ago, was also released, Lebanon's official National News Agency reported Sunday.

The Kurdish region in Iraq's north already has seen a flurry of postelection bargaining between Kurds and the governing Shiite Muslim religious party, the United Iraqi Alliance.

Preliminary results from the Dec. 15 election have given the Shiite group a strong lead in the voting for Iraq's 275-member parliament, but not enough for it to govern without other political blocs.

A year ago, it took nearly three months of negotiations between the Shiite religious alliance and a coalition of Kurdish parties to form an interim government after a Jan. 30 election that was boycotted by the Sunni Arabs at the core of the insurgency.

The first quarter of 2006 looks more crucial as Iraq tries to shape an administration that will govern for four years. U.S. officials are pushing the parties to form a broad-based coalition government, and failed negotiations could worsen the civil strife.

"This is perceived, inappropriately or inaccurately perhaps, by the enemy as a time of vulnerability, as the government transitions from its transitional government to a permanent government, to the constitutional-based, democratically elected four-year permanent government," said Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition force.

The Sunni Arab visit to the Kurdish region was the first since the election, whose results have been protested by Sunni and secular Shiite parties. Their trip came as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a leading member of the governing United Iraqi Alliance, met on Sunday with Kurdish regional president Mazoud Barzani and discussed the outlines of a future coalition government.

"We agreed on essential principles for exerting efforts to form a broad-based government, a strong national unity government. Meetings will be continued later here and in Baghdad and we will continue to cooperate until we achieve what is beneficial for Iraq," Barzani said.

Final election results are expected as early as this week, and the Shiite religious bloc may win about 130 seats - short of the 184 seats needed to avoid a coalition with other parties to elect a president. That vote is a prerequisite before a government can be formed.

The Kurds could get about 55 seats, the main Sunni Arab groups about 50 and the secular Shiite bloc headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi about 25.

A representative of Allawi's group said it had not been invited to the Irbil talks.

The Irbil meetings came ahead of Monday's visit to Iraq by a team of international monitors who will assess the elections, which have been endorsed as credible by the United Nations but denounced as rigged by opposition groups. About 1,500 complaints have been registered.

"We are highly confident that the international team will look deeply into the complaints regarding the election results, will present its recommendations, and compensate us for the votes we lost," Tarek al-Hashimi, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, told the Al-Jazeera satellite television channel.

Al-Hashimi, who is among the delegation headed to meet with Barzani on Monday, said the Accordance Front would not boycott the next parliament - a threat that has been made by smaller groups - and would promote Sunni Arab demands for broad amendments to the constitution approved in an Oct. 15 referendum.

"In the case the results remain as they are, we will remain in the parliament and our message to all will be to amend the constitution and this is our priority," he said.

The day's worst bloodshed came in eastern Baghdad, where police said gunmen killed five people at a butcher shop and a bomb killed two police officers at a gas station.

Two more Iraqis were slain and five wounded by gunfire at a Sunni mosque in southern Baghdad, while a Shiite sheik was fatally shot at a market in the same part of the city.

In the northern city of Mosul, about a dozen gunmen attacked a police checkpoint, killing a bystander and wounding three policemen, police said.

Eight of the cars bombs exploded in Baghdad and wounded a total of 11 people, police said. Officers later destroyed a ninth car bomb that failed to go off.

A suicide car bomber near Tikrit injured six civilians, and in the northern city of Kirkuk, a bomb aimed at an Iraqi police convoy wounded three civilians, police said. Car bombings in the northern city of Kirkuk and in Muqdadiyah caused no injuries.

A gasoline shortage because of insurgents' threats against tanker-truck drivers has added to the unease. Police killed two protesters in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk on Sunday when a demonstration by 500 people over rising fuel prices escalated into a riot. Authorities imposed a curfew on the city.