Italian police have launched raids in the cities of Milan and Turin, after identifying 15 young men and three boys suspected of involvement in a series of sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve.
Nine women have come forward to say they were attacked in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo while celebrating.
The allegations are reminiscent of the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, Germany, six years ago.
Police in Italy have used CCTV and amateur video footage to identify suspects.
The young men and boys, aged 15 to 21, who were the targets of Tuesday’s raids, were identified as being allegedly involved in sexual assaults, robberies, or aggravating wounding in Milan, according to a statement.
Police and prosecutors said they were aware of three attacks in the northern city’s central square during the evening, and that those who took part were either foreigners or Italians of North African origin. Investigators believe more than nine young women were assaulted and are looking for additional victims.
In one case, a 19-year-old woman who had gone out to celebrate the New Year with a friend was attacked by a gang of teenagers around 01:30. While her friend was able to flee, the teenager was attacked for nearly a minute before receiving assistance.
Two young German students were sexually assaulted after being pushed up against barriers, and a girl was attacked separately in streets near the piazza.
According to one of the German women, who is 20 years old, they were attacked by dozens of people during the noise of fireworks and music. “I realised they were touching me, and we wanted to flee, but there were too many of them,” she told Ansa.
Her friend collapsed, and she noticed hands groping all over her. A video of the attack has emerged, showing the two young women attempting to flee.
Despite the fact that police were present, the young German complained that they did little to assist them and did not understand them when they tried to explain what had happened in English.
The accounts in Milan have brought back memories of a night of rape, sexual assault, and robbery carried out near Cologne Cathedral on 1 January 2016 by 1,000 people, many of whom were of North African origin.
Cologne police were also accused of failing to respond to the attacks, which were later condemned as “abominable” by then-Chancellor Angela Merkel.