German politicians voiced strong support Monday for a police crackdown on potential troublemakers during New Year's celebrations in the city of Cologne, despite concern that officers may have engaged in racial profiling.
Police stopped hundreds of North African men heading into downtown Cologne on Saturday to prevent a repeat of the robberies and sexual assaults that marred festivities a year earlier.
Critics accused police of stopping people on their appearance alone, noting a tweet on the police Twitter account that read: "Hundreds of Nafris screened at main railway station."
Police Chief Juergen Mathies said the department has used the term -- shorthand for North Africans -- internally since 2013 to describe young North Africans regarded as particularly violent or criminal.
Mathies said it wasn't meant for public use and insisted that his officers had stopped the young men based on their behavior, not appearance.
Alexander Bosch, an anti-racism campaigner at Amnesty International, alleged that police broke the law and called for an independent investigation.
"The Cologne police operation is a clear case of racial profiling," Bosch said.
Parties across the political spectrum, however, lauded the operation. The center-left Greens said it was "right to act swiftly and preventatively."
"At the same time, it's right for (Mathies) to question the use of the term Nafris, thereby showing that he's aware of the risks of racial profiling," the opposition party said.
Security concerns have become a political topic in the run-up to Germany's general election this fall, with anti-migrant groups regularly highlighting crimes committed by foreigners.
Police say that migrants who came to Germany as part of the influx of asylum seekers over the past two years aren't committing more crimes than the rest of the population, despite the attention given to several high-profile cases.