Cologne sex attackers risk deportation - Merkel

Main railway station in Cologne, Germany January 7, 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Cologne police said women had to "run a gauntlet" on New Year's Eve

Germany must contemplate deporting foreigners convicted of crimes following the Cologne sex attacks, Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

She said "clear signals" had to be sent to those not prepared to abide by German law.

Gangs of men described as of North African and Arab appearance were reported to be behind the attacks.

Police also received reports of sexual attacks in cities in Finland, Austria and Switzerland on New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, four young Syrians are being held over the suspected gang rape of two teenage girls in the southern German town of Weil am Rhein on the same night, according to German media.

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Responding to outrage over the Cologne attacks, Mrs Merkel said in a statement: "These are repugnant criminal acts that a state, that Germany will not accept.

"That's why it is important that everything that happened there will be brought to the table.

"We must examine again and again whether we have already done what is necessary in terms of deportations from Germany, in order to send clear signals to those who are not prepared to abide by our legal order."

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Media captionA woman tells the BBC's Jenny Hill how she and her friends became surrounded

The identification of the attackers as North African or Arab in appearance has caused alarm in Germany because of the influx of more than a million migrants and refugees in the past year.

Officials have warned that anti-immigrant groups have been trying to use the attacks to stir up hatred.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group that German law allowed people to be deported during asylum proceedings if they were sentenced to a year or more in prison.

An internal police report published in German media on Thursday said officers "could not cope" with the volume of attacks in Cologne.

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Media caption"They touched us everywhere"

The number of reported crimes from the incident has risen to 121, about three-quarters of which involve sexual assault. There were two allegations of rape.

Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers has rejected claims that his teams were understaffed and described what happened as "a completely new dimension of crime".

So far 16 suspects have been identified but there have been no arrests.

'New phenomenon'

Similar attacks were also reported in Hamburg and in Stuttgart.

Meanwhile police in Weil am Rhein, on the border with Switzerland and France, have reportedly detained four suspects aged between 14 and 21, originally from Syria, over the gang rape of two girls aged 14 and 15 on New Year's Eve.

The attack is not believed to be connected to the events in Cologne, the police statement said.

"I feel so ashamed" - Anger on Arab-language social media

Facebook user Israa Ragab: "Every time I watch the TV and hear them saying the suspects could be from North Africa or Arabs I feel so ashamed and disgusted"

Deutsche Welle Arabic journalist Nahla Elhenawy: "The ugliness of our region is reaching Germany"

@Farcry99 on Twitter: "Will Europe regret receiving people who suffer from religious and political repression?"

Arab social media fury at Cologne attacks

In Finland, police said they had received reports of "widespread sexual harassment" in Helsinki on New Year's Eve.

A police official said they were tipped off that groups of asylum seekers had planned to sexually harass women and that three asylum seekers had been arrested.

"This is a completely new phenomenon in Helsinki," deputy police chief Ilkka Koskimaki told AFP news agency.

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner pledged police would take a "no tolerance" approach to sexual assault after complaints of attacks in the city of Salzburg emerged.

And police in the Swiss city of Zurich said about six women had reported being robbed and sexually assaulted on New Year's Eve in attacks "a little bit similar" to those in Germany.

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