Suspects in New Year’s sexual assaults claimed to be refugees, reports say

Some of the men involved in a series of sexual assaults against women in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve are claiming to be Syrian refugees, according to German media reports published Thursday.

Two publications – the Bild newspaper and Spiegel magazine – released what they claim is an internal police report by an officer responding to the scene, The Telegraph reports.

German officials have said there is no solid evidence that refugees were involved in the assaults, but the report states that one of the men told authorities “I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs. Merkel invited me.”

Another man reportedly tore up his residence permit in front of police and said “You can’t do anything to me, I can get a new one tomorrow.”

Police said Thursday they have now received 121 criminal complaints alleging sexual assault and robbery during the New Year's Eve festivities. That includes two accounts of rape.

Investigators working with video footage have identified 16 young men — largely of North African origin — who may be suspects and are working to determine whether they committed any crimes, police said. Authorities don't yet have names for most of the men. They said thousands of men apparently stormed the crowd outside the city's cathedral.

The allegations came as Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Germany must examine whether it has done enough to deport foreigners who commit crimes. And Germany's justice minister said refugees could be deported if they're found to have participated in the assaults.

Merkel said that "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."

She said in Berlin that the New Year's assaults were "repugnant criminal acts that ... Germany will not accept," and that legal changes or extra police presence may be examined.

"The feeling women had in this case of being at people's mercy, without any protection, is intolerable for me personally as well," she said. "And so it is important for everything that happened there to be put on the table."

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview with the Funke newspaper group that "deportations would certainly be conceivable."

He said the law allows for people to be deported during asylum proceedings if they're sentenced to a year or more in prison.

"The courts will have to decide on the level of sentences, but that penalty is in principle absolutely possible for sexual offenses," he said.

"If it turns out that refugees were the perpetrators, then they forfeited their right to be guests," Andreas Scheuer, the general secretary of the conservative Christian Social Union — the smallest party in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government — was quoted as telling the daily Bild.

Police have faced criticism for their response, and German media reported Thursday on an internal police report that suggested officers were overwhelmed by the situation on New Year's Eve.

Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers said he is reporting to the regional government on what happened, and won't publicly give further details before a meeting Monday of the state legislature's home affairs committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.