Austrian police are investigating reports of sexual assaults during New Year celebrations in the town centre of Innsbruck, in the Tyrol region, a spokesman said on 4 January.
So far 18 women have come forward to the police to report instances of sexual assault at the hands of a group of men. The victims are young women, aged in their late teens and early twenties, from various countries, including Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Romania, as well as local residents.
They reported that unidentified assailants, acting in a group of around five or six people, had groped and tried to kiss them. Some of them took pictures of the aggressors, but both those images and the security camera footage available is of very poor quality due to the poorly lit surroundings, making it hard to identify the perpetrators.
Around 25,000 people gathered in Innsbruck's main square Marktplatz for a concert and firework show. Based on the witnesses accounts, the men, probably in their twenties or thirties, appeared to be foreign nationals, as they spoke English or poor German, and had dark complexions.
"It has definitely been proven that they are foreign," said the police spokesman, as quoted by Reuters. "We are investigating. We have videos of poor quality but we are trying to make the best of them."
Another four sexual attacks during the celebrations were reported in the Austrian city of Salzburg, but the Innsbruck police said the scale of the attack in their city was unprecedented, and the style of the attack was similar to those that were reported in the German town of Cologne during New Year 2016 celebrations.
To prevent the same attacks from happening this year, the German police screened around 650 men, mostly of North African origins, a strategy that has led to accusations of racial profiling. In the Austrian capital of Vienna, the police distributed as many as 6,000 rape alarms during the New Years' celebrations in an effort to increase safety.
Far-right parties in Germany and Austria have seen their popularity increase on the back of rising xenophobic sentiments opposing the arrival of asylum seekers. The presidential election in Austria saw far-right candidate Norbert Hofer going head to head against environmentalist economist Alexander van der Bellen. The Innsbruck area overwhelmingly voted for the winning van der Bellen in December.