Nine Iraqi refugees have been arrested in Austria on suspicion of gang-raping a 28-year-old German woman, in a case that analysts believe can have political significance ahead of this Autumn's presidential election re-run.
The suspects were arrested over the weekend after an eight month long, "protracted and difficult" investigation that began after the complaint was filed on January 1. DNA evidence and CCTV camera footage was used as evidence to build a case against the nine asylum seekers - five of whom were arrested in Vienna, three in Styria and one in Lower Austria.
"There is no doubt about the gang rape according to the biological traces. On the trail of the suspects, investigators came by DNA material, interviews with witnesses and images from surveillance cameras," Vienna police spokesman Paul Eidenberger told the Telegraph.
The incident allegedly took place on New Year's Eve when the victim was travelling from the German state of Lower Saxony to an apartment in Vienna in order to celebrate the New Year with a friend.
The victim was allegedly taken from Vienna's central Schwedenplatz and subsequently assaulted in an apartment, where two of the suspects lived, between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., according to the police.
The victim claims that she has no recollection of being taken to the apartment as she had been drinking and also suspects she was drugged, the police added.
"The presumed perpetrators are likely to have taken advantage of the female victim's high level of inebriation," police added in the statement.
The suspects, whose age ranges from 21 to 47, have all denied the accusations and police added they were unable to say how many of the men had participated in the alleged attack.
The case is believed to hold significance as it may spark the debate around sensitive political issues such as immigration and crime, ahead of Austria's re-run of its presidential election, which last June saw the far-Right Freedom Party losing out to a Green Party candidate by less than one per cent of the vote.
The far- Right Freedom Party, which is running first in opinion polls is riding the anti-immigrant wave by highlighting cases where immigrants have been accused of sexual and other attacks. On Dipresse.com, a news website in Austria for instance, readers demanded that the men be "immediately deported" if they were convicted of the rape.
The Austrian government has abandoned Angela Merkel's open immigration policies, despite initially supporting them. A conference organized in February decidedly closed the so-called 'Western Balkan route' by which refugees were streaming into Europe.
Freedom Party presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, has also fanned anti-immigrant sentiments by promising to ban burqas and ensuring Austria's exit from the European Union (EU) if the predominantly Muslim country Turkey is ever allowed to join the EU.