Three asylum seekers first to be convicted over Cologne attacks

Two asylum seekers tried in connection with a series of crimes in Cologne on New Year's Eve have been handed suspended sentences for theft, and a third has been put on probation, a court spokesman said.

They are the first convictions related to the wave of sexual assaults and robberies that night in the western German city, with the suspects mostly from North Africa.

A 23-year-old Moroccan asylum seeker was handed a 100-euro (110-dollar) fine and a six-month suspended sentence for grabbing a mobile phone from a woman while she was taking a photo of Cologne's famed cathedral.

The police also found a small amount of amphetamines on the man during his arrest.

Two others - a 22-year-old Tunisian and an 18-year-old Moroccan man - were found guilty of stealing a man's camera. The Tunisian received a three-month suspended sentence, while his juvenile accomplice was put on probation for two years.

Their names were withheld in line with German privacy laws.

"It is and remains a simple theft," said Julia Ross, one of the two judges in the case, emphasizing the fact that the men should not be treated more harshly because of the hundreds of crimes - many of a sexual nature - that were committed by others on the same night.

The New Year's Eve attacks sparked a huge debate in Germany about how to deal with asylum seekers found guilty of crimes and the country's ability to integrate the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in 2015.

More than 1,000 complaints were filed with Cologne police in the wake of the incident. About 40 per cent of those were complaints of a sexual nature ranging from harassment to rape.

It was unclear whether Wednesday's sentences would affect the men's asylum requests. The judges said that it was not for the Cologne court to decide.

The witnesses in the first case included the man's 20-year-old female victim and an Afghan refugee that helped her identify and chase down the thief.

The defendant apologized to his victim during the trial and his lawyer thanked the Afghan bystander for his help in getting the phone back.

Last update: Wed, 24/02/2016 - 20:18

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