The women have reported that unidentified assailants had groped and tried to kiss them that evening as they stood in or near a crowded central square for a concert and fireworks display. Most described a group of five or six men, the police spokesman said.
In neighboring Germany last year, hundreds of women were sexually assaulted and robbed at New Year’s celebrations in Cologne and suspects were mainly of North African and Arab appearance. Police there said they prevented a repeat of this year by screening 650 mostly North African men on the night.
Anti-immigrant sentiment has boosted support for far-right parties in both Austria and Germany after both countries took in waves of migrants, many of them from the Middle East and North Africa, during Europe’s migration crisis in 2015.
Witnesses in Innsbruck, a city in the Alps in western Austria, said the New Year’s assailants were in their 20s or 30s and had dark complexions, but their nationality was not clear.
The assaults happened despite a police presence reinforced because of the Cologne assaults and last month’s truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, the spokesman said.
Roughly 25,000 people gathered in the area of the central Market Square for a concert and fireworks display, visibility was limited, he added.
“We have never seen anything in this form,” he said. “I cannot remember (an attack) of this intensity, on this scale and with this modus operandi.”