Europe

Cologne police boss regrets New Year tweet on North Africans

  • Police officers surround a group of men in front of the Cologne, western Germany, main station, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, where a string of robberies and sexual assaults last year that were blamed largely on migrants from North Africa prompted nationwide outrage. (Henning Kaiser/dpa via AP)

    Police officers surround a group of men in front of the Cologne, western Germany, main station, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, where a string of robberies and sexual assaults last year that were blamed largely on migrants from North Africa prompted nationwide outrage. (Henning Kaiser/dpa via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Tourists walk through the light installation by Berlin artist Phillip Geist in front of the Cologne cathedral, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 where a string of robberies and sexual assaults last year that were blamed largely on migrants from North Africa prompted nationwide outrage. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)

    Tourists walk through the light installation by Berlin artist Phillip Geist in front of the Cologne cathedral, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 where a string of robberies and sexual assaults last year that were blamed largely on migrants from North Africa prompted nationwide outrage. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Cologne's police chief says he regrets his force's use of the term "Nafris" to describe North Africans in a New Year's Eve tweet, but dismissed suggestions it engaged in racial profiling.

Officers stopped hundreds of North African men heading into downtown Cologne on Saturday to prevent a repeat of sexual assaults that marred New Year's celebrations a year earlier.

The department wrote on Twitter: "Hundreds of Nafris screened at main railway station."

Critics accused police of stopping people on their appearance alone. Opposition Green party co-leader Simone Peter told the Rheinische Post the term "Nafris" was "completely unacceptable."

Police Chief Juergen Matthies said Monday the department has used the term internally since 2013 to describe young North Africans regarded as particularly violent or criminal. He says it wasn't meant for public use.