STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish police faced allegations of a cover-up Monday for failing to inform the public of widespread sexual assaults against teenage girls at a music festival last summer.
Police hadn't mentioned the August incidents at the "We are Sthlm" festival until newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported on them this weekend following a string of sexual assaults and robberies on New Year's Eve in Cologne, Germany.
Stockholm police spokesman Varg Gyllander confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday there was "a large number" of sexual assaults during the five-day festival and that scores of suspects were detained.
He said police should have reported on the incidents at the time "given the nature of the crime." He denied suggestions in the newspaper report that police kept quiet because the suspects were foreigners.
"We probably should have communicated this," Gyllander told the AP. "But we wouldn't have discussed ethnicity at all."
Police in Germany have been criticized for not immediately reporting the incidents in Cologne, where authorities and witnesses later described the attackers as predominantly Arab and North African men.
Gyllander couldn't confirm the ethnicity of the alleged attackers in Stockholm but said "this involves young men who are not from Sweden."
Roger Ticoalu, who heads the city government's events department, told the AP that a "large part" of those detained were from Afghanistan, many carrying temporary ID-cards issued to asylum-seekers.
He said about 20 teenage girls filed complaints of sexual assault and that about 200 suspects were detained and ejected from the festival for sexual assault and other offenses. It wasn't immediately clear whether any of them were arrested and charged.
Ticoalu said organizers received reports already in 2014 of groups of young men and boys groping girls in a systematic manner. Efforts were put in place, including more security guards, to prevent a repeat in 2015 but instead the problem got worse, he said.
"We've always had individual cases" of sexual assault, he said. "But here we have a larger group doing it almost in an organized way. It's a completely new level of obscenity."
"You have a large group of boys surrounding the girls," he said. "They pretend to dance. They come closer and closer. Then they start touching their breasts and genitals. In some cases in combination with theft."
Ticoalu said organizers had discussed the problem on Swedish Radio before last year's festival but didn't alert the public to the incidents taking place once the festival got underway.
"Of course you can say we should have," he said. "But during this period we had 170,000 visitors in five days. So the situation wasn't judged as something where the public needed to be informed."
Dagens Nyheter cited police officials saying Swedish police are reluctant to speak publicly about crimes linked to migrants for fear of playing into the hands of the far-right Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party whose support has surged to about 20 percent in opinion polls.
Politicians of all stripes said it was unacceptable for police to withhold information due to political concerns.
"Police should fight crime and prosecute the perpetrators," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told Swedish news agency TT. "There should be no reason whatsoever to try to hide anything."