An Algerian man, who stood trial in connection with the alleged sexual attacks on women in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve , was cleared on Friday of attempted sexual assault, though he was convicted of handling stolen goods.
The 26-year-old man was the first to be placed on trial for a sexual offense after the New Year events in Cologne that heightened tensions over Germany's migrant influx.
However, the victim of the assault did not recognise him and the Cologne regional court ruled there was no proof that the man was part of the group of alleged assailants, news agency dpa reported.
The suspect, whose name has not been released in keeping with German privacy rules, was accused of being in a group of around 10 men who surrounded and groped a woman in the central train station, and of stealing her cellphone.
He also was charged with attempted theft over a December 13 incident in which he and another man were accused of trying to break into a car.
The woman's cellphone was found on the suspect, but he said he had bought it from an acquaintance.
The defendant was convicted of handling stolen goods and of the attempted car break-in, and was given a six-month suspended sentence.
The alleged attacks sharpened public concern about the arrival of over one million mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers, with far-right groups railing against "sex jihadists" and "rapefugees".
According to a report released by the German Criminal Police Office in late April, the first three months of 2016 saw 347 crimes on refugee accommodation. Among the offenses were three attempted homicides, 37 arson attacks and 23 injuries. The whole of 2015 saw a total of 1,031 such crimes.
The scenes also cast a harsh spotlight on the city's police who initially failed to prevent the violence then tried to play down the extent of the chaos for several days.
As the attacks gained wider media coverage, more women came forward. Prosecutors have now received some 1,170 criminal complaints, including 492 accusations of sexual assault. Nine men have so far been sentenced in Cologne, all for property crimes.
A key suspect in the Cologne sexual violence, a 19-year-old Moroccan man, is set to face trial after he was spotted shoplifting in southern Germany and arrested across the border in Switzerland last week.
Another Moroccan man is on trial in the western city of Duesseldorf over a New Year's attack there in which he allegedly groped an 18-year-old woman encircled by some 15 to 20 men.