BERLIN - Most of the suspects identified in connection with a series of robberies and sexual assaults in Cologne during New Year's celebrations are refugees, prosecutors said Monday.
The crimes, described as unprecedented by authorities, sparked uproar in Germany and a heated debate about the country's ability to integrate almost 1.1 million people who sought asylum there last year.
The incident has led to both a political and a personal backlash against the mostly Middle Eastern and North African asylum seekers that flooded the country last year.
Numerous migrants reported being attacked themselves randomly in the wake of the Cologne assaults, and Chancellor Angela Merkel's soaring popularity took a major nosedive afterwards. The Cologne sexual assaults even almost led to an international incident with Russia.
Cologne prosecutor Ulrich Bremer said 73 suspects have been identified so far - most of them from North Africa. A total of 1,075 criminal complaints have been filed, including 467 alleging crimes of a sexual nature ranging from insults to rape.
"The overwhelming majority of persons fall into the general category of refugees," Bremer told The Associated Press, saying recent reports describing only three of the suspects as refugees were "total nonsense."
Initially, authorities in Cologne were accused of downplaying the fact that the attackers included many asylum-seekers because of the political sensitivity of the issue.
The suspects included 30 Moroccan nationals, 27 Algerians, four Iraqis, three Germans, three Syrians, three Tunisians, and one each from Libya, Iran and Montenegro, Bremer said.
"They have various legal statuses, including illegal entry, asylum-seekers and asylum applicants," he said of the foreign suspects. "That covers the overwhelming majority of suspects."
Twelve of the 73 suspects are linked to sexual crimes, though only one of those - a Moroccan asylum-seeker who entered Germany in November - is in custody, he said.